by Fatiha Betscher, Jumeirah Estates, Dubai
Matthew Fitzpatrick is projected to now end the season as European No. 1 after posting a sizzling seven-under 65 in sauna-like conditions on the opening day of the DP World Tour Championship here in Dubai.
The 28-year-old reigning US Open champion burst from the opening tee to birdie five holes in succession before eventually joining fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton at the top, after Hatton bogeyed the last in his round also at seven-under.
Fitpatrick arrived at the Jumeirah Estates lying third on the Race to Dubai money-list but with DP World Tour organisers projecting he will jump ahead of both No. 1 ranked Rory McIllroy and also Kiwi Ryan Fox holding down No. 2 position, by going to the top.
McIlroy admitted to being ‘rusty’ in signing for a one-under 71 that has him sharing 22nd place while Fox posted a disappointing one-over 73 to be tied 32nd on the leaderboard but is projected to drop to No. 3 on the money-list.
And it was a croaky-sounding Fitzpatrick, who had declined to speak to SKY Sports during his round, but did speak albeit for a short time post his score of 65.
“It was an incredible start to have five birdies in a row,” he said. “I was laughing to be honest. I literally said to Billy (Foster – caddy) out there that when we won in 2020, didn’t we have four in a row? So, we did four in a row today and then we laughed about that and I made a fifth. It was a nice start to the day.”
Then when Fitzpatrick was advised he was projected, albeit after just one round, to go past both McIlroy and Fox, he responded: “No, I have no idea how they are getting on. The way they are playing this week, it seems that it really is one shot at a time and you’ve got to be on your ball. Just because of how difficult I think it is with the rough, you’re missing fairways, you can’t give yourself any chances.
“It’s difficult to control the ball coming out of the rough, and certainly around the greens it’s the same deal, and it’s only probably going to get firmer.”
MEANTIME – FITZPATRICK TO BLANK SPOTY AWARD
It’s being reported Fitzpatrick has turned his back on an invitation to attend this year’s BBC Sportsperson of the Year (SPOTY) award.
No doubt, Fitzpatrick must be on a shortlist for the award but he believes the chances of a golfer winning an award from a TV network that doesn’t cover it are very slim. Many will very much agree with him.
To further lengthen the odds in winning the award on December 21st is the fact that just two British golfers have won the ‘SPOTY’ prize, firstly Dai Rees in 1957, after captaining GB&I to their first Ryder Cup victory since 1925 and Nick Faldo in 1989 after winning his first Masters.
Since Faldo’s triumph, only Darren Clarke in 2011 and Rory McIlroy in 2014 have been placed on the podium – with both Northern Irish golfers finishing as runners-up on those occasions.
Rory McIlroy was snubbed in 2014 despite winning back-to-back majors at the PGA Championship and The Open and also finishing second on that occasion to two-time SPOTY winner Lewis Hamilton, despite winning 35 events around the world along with his four majors plus being a member of four winning Ryder Cup teams, McIlroy has disgracefully been overlooked for the award.
Alarmingly, Fitzpatrick is currently 150-1 with bookmakers, reinforcing his belief why should he even bother entering..
“It’s funny you should mention that…. What can I say? It’s a recurring theme. Not that it bothers me,” he said.
“In Mexico once I was actually in the middle of the tournament and this bloke came running down the fairway shouting “Rory, Rory, please sign this.
“I said “I’m not Rory”, but he just wouldn’t have it. I suppose I’ve really made it when someone mistakes Rory for me.”