Rory McIlroy leads the plaudits to Abu Dhabi champion Tommy Fleetwood
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 21/01/18 9:12pm
Rory McIlroy described Tommy Fleetwood as "seriously impressive" after the Englishman retained his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title in stunning style.
Fleetwood was just one under for his final round at the turn and trailing leader Ross Fisher by five shots, but Fisher stuttered over the back nine as the defending champion piled on the pressure with a barrage of birdies.
Last season's European No 1 holed a series of clutch putts and carded six birdies to storm home in 30 and set the clubhouse target at 22 under, which proved enough for a two-shot victory when Fisher failed to make the eagle he needed at the 18th to force a play-off.
McIlroy finished four shots behind Fleetwood after a frustrating 70, but he was full of praise for the Englishman afterwards and is looking forward to being his Ryder Cup team-mate in the autumn.
"It's incredible," said McIlroy, who will be playing in this week's Omega Dubai Classic along with Fleetwood and Masters champion Sergio Garcia. "Tommy had a great year last year, won the Race to Dubai, No 1 in Europe and then to just keep going.
"This week, defending champion, to put that round of golf together out there today, I mean, to shoot 65 in those conditions is seriously impressive. And six under on the back nine when he needed to? I thought the pins on the back nine were very tough.
Tommy has been playing well for a long time, and he's the guy to beat in Europe right now.
"It was very tough to get close to the holes. I didn't hit it in the fairway very often but even when I did, it's tough to get it within 15, 20 feet of the hole to give yourself a chance, so to shoot six under on that back nine is seriously impressive.
"He's a great addition to the world of golf, a great addition to the European Tour and he will be a great addition to the Ryder Cup team in September. For Tommy to defend, and in such style against such a great field, it bodes well not just for him, but for European golf as well.
"He's been playing well for a long time now, and he's the guy to beat in Europe right now."
World No 1 Dustin Johnson, runner-up to Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year, closed with a 70 to finish eight shots adrift of the champion, and the American also joined the plaudits.
"I think he's just got a good all around game," Johnson said. "He drives it pretty well, has a good short game, and he does everything pretty well, so I think that's what makes him a good player."
Fisher was understandably disappointed with his back-nine 37 having opened up a commanding lead with an eagle and two birdies over the first seven holes, but he insisted Fleetwood had fully earned his win.
He said: "Hats off to Tommy. I don't feel like I've lost a tournament, because Tommy's gone out there and shot 65 and he's won it, so all credit to him."
Justin Rose was one of the first of a raft of players quick to congratulate Fleetwood on his successful defence, while Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn was also impressed.