Shane Lowry shot a closing 67 to take leading Irishman honours as Nicolai Højgaard won his first Rolex Series title as a back-nine birdie barrage saw him sign for a closing 64 and a two-shot victory at the DP World Tour Championship.
Lowry’s five-under final effort included four back-nine birdies and he moved into a tie for 18th, edging Rory McIlroy by a stroke as the freshly crowned, five-time Race to Dubai winner closed out with a two-under for a -10 total.
Tom McKibbin signed off with a slightly disappointing level-par 72 for a tie for 32nd at -7. The Holywood rookie’s hopes of a late push to secure one of the ten PGA Tour cards on offer never really materialised but it was an incredible first year on the main tour and he’ll already be targeting a fast start to 2024.
But it was Højgaard who would secure the final victory of the season, firmly establishing himself among the Tour’s big-name stars. The Dane had led after days one and two at Jumeirah Golf Estates but entered the final round three shots off the pace before pulling himself right into contention with a front nine of 33.
He was back on top with a gain on the tenth and then reeled off five birdies in a row from the 13th to get to 21 under and hold off the challenge of his Ryder Cup team-mates Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland and overnight leader Matt Wallace.
Fleetwood and Hovland signed for a pair of 68s, one shot less than Wallace, to sit two ahead of defending champion Jon Rahm, South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence and Frenchman Matthieu Pavon.
Højgaard finished fourth over the Earth Course in his only previous appearance at this event in 2021, catapulting himself into the top ten on that season’s final Rankings and he will finish 2023 second behind Race to Dubai champion Rory McIlroy.
“It means a lot,” Højgaard said afterwards. “It’s the sweetest one. It’s so much hard work been put in the last couple years, and this year has been a really good year if I look back on it, I feel like the only thing I need, was missing, was a win, and to get it this week, this field, is unbelievable.
“I mean, I can’t believe it’s just happened. Because I was just so focused on the job on the golf course, and understanding on 18, having a putt to actually close it out, and it slips by, I thought it was quite a tough moment for me, actually, yeah. Did I just let it slip away now and do we have to go to a playoff. Par but kind of regrouped and took it a little bit easy.
“But this feels amazing. I’ve got family here. This one is for family. Everything they put in over the years, there’s so much hard work going into this. For it to happen like this is unbelievable.”
While becoming an international player and starting his career on the PGA Tour this year, he recorded seven DP World Tour top tens to earn his place in Europe’s Ryder Cup team, winning half a point as Luke Donald’s men defeated the United States.
He added to that tally by finishing second at last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge and brought that form to Dubai, where he is now a three-time DP World Tour champion and enters the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time.
England’s Fleetwood joined the lead from ten feet at the first and it was soon a three-way tie as Hovland got up and down from the sand on the par-five second.
A monster 40-foot eagle putt on the same hole handed Fleetwood a two-shot lead but he bogeyed the fourth after finding sand off the tee and soon had company at 17 under.
Overnight leader Wallace made a 40-footer of his own on the sixth and ahead at the par-five seventh Hovland made a two-putt birdie before hitting the front on his own from five feet on the eighth.
The Norwegian failed to find the green in two at the next and the resulting bogey left the door open for Højgaard to join the lead.
The 22-year-old had made a two-putt gain on the fourth, holed a long putt at the fifth and hit a beautiful tee-shot into the next before putting an approach to five feet at the tenth.
Fleetwood found another gear after the turn, however, putting a pitch inside five feet on the tenth and a brilliant second to two feet at the next to move two ahead.
Højgaard had dropped a shot on the 12th but he put his tee-shot at the par-three 13th inside ten feet and then found the green at the par-five 14th in two to trim the gap to one.
Hovland also took advantage of the 14th with two putts but Højgaard was relentless, pitching from the first cut to seven feet for three birdies in a row and a share of the lead.
Another beautiful approach to four feet at the 16th edged him ahead but Fleetwood holed a brilliant, curling 15-foot right-to-lefter on the 15th, only to see Højgaard make a fifth birdie in a row on the 17th after a tee-shot to four feet.
He missed a chance from four feet for six in a row but a Fleetwood three-putt on the 17th meant the he, Wallace and Hovland needed eagles up the last to force a play-off, a feat none of them could achieve.
Hovland added a further birdie at the 16th before parring the last after finding water, while Englishman Wallace had dropped a shot on the seventh and reeled off six pars in a row before birdies at the 14th, 15th and 17th sent him back up the leaderboard.
Spaniard Rahm and Lawrence both carded rounds of 66, with Pavon signing for a 67 to sit at 17 under, one shot clear of another Frenchman in Victor Perez and two ahead of Scot Ewen Ferguson and Dane Jeff Winther.
Pavon’s finish helped him earn one of the ten PGA Tour cards available via the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex alongside Perez, Adrian Meronk, Ryan Fox, Thorbjørn Olesen, Alexander Björk, Sami Välimäki, Robert MacIntyre, Jorge Campillo and Ryo Hisatsune, who will all now have dual membership.