Three months short of turning 47, England’s Lee Westwood put together a masterclass in leading from the front as he won the $7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Sunday by two shots.
The two-time European Tour number one started the final round one ahead of his closest rivals Bernd Wiesberger and Francesco Laporta, and even though several players made a charge towards him, he never relinquished his lead throughout the day.
Westwood made six birdies in his round of five-under par 67 to finish on 19-under par 269 for his 25th title on the European Tour and his 44th internationally. Currently ranked 63rd in the world, he is expected to rise to number 29 on Monday.
He also became only the third player on the European Tour to win in four different decades after Ireland’s Des Smyth and Zimbabwean Mark McNulty. Westwood’s first win came in the 1996 Scandinavian Masters.
Two-time Abu Dhabi champion Tommy Fleetwood and Frenchman Victor Perez closed with rounds of nine-under par 63 to set the clubhouse mark on 17-under par 271. They were later joined at that score by England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick (67), but that was good enough only for a tied second place.
“Fantastic. I am ecstatic, elated and a bit emotional. Just great to keep playing well, and you know, show that I am still good enough,” said a teary-eyed Westwood. “I was trying not to look at leaderboards. I peeked at a few on the way around the back nine.
“It was some quality golf. I really felt quite calm on the greens this week and rolled a lot of good putts. That was the key to winning, really. You’ve got to putt well to win any tournament, but especially here in the desert because the greens are so immaculate.”
Westwood immediately gave himself some breathing space with birdies on the second and third holes. He then picked up shots on the fifth and eighth holes to make the turn at four-under par.
The Englishman then saved a crucial par on the 11th hole and his tee shot on the 12th almost spun back into the water. Undeterred, he sank his birdie putt from the fringe.
Westwood’s only bogey was on the 16th hole which reduced his lead to one shot, but he kept his calm with a measured par on the 17th and then hit two magnificent shots into the par-5 18th for a final birdie.
– Ryder Cup ambition –
AFP / – Lee Westwood earned his 44th career title
Westwood will now get into every major and World Golf Championship event and it has reignited his desire to make it to the European Ryder Cup team for the 11th time.
“I’m not sure I can take any more Ryder Cups,” he quipped. “Played ten, and it was good watching the lads last time. But you know, obviously if there’s a chance of that, then I might as well go for it. It’s nice just to come out and keep proving that you’ve still got it.”
Fleetwood, who turned 29 on Sunday, looked like heading for a double celebration but he could not make a final birdie on the 18th which would have put some pressure on Westwood and given him a share of the course record.
“It was good, really good. Felt like I gradually got better through the week. I struggled on Thursday and then had a really good practice session and played well on Friday when it was tough conditions. And yesterday, I hit a couple of ropey drives and missed a couple of putts and that 5-under was really the worst there could have been,” said Fleetwood.
“It’s weird, a little disappointed on the last, just gave the tee shot away, and even the wedge wasn’t great. But you couldn’t really complain about 63 on the final day.”
Fitzpatrick put some heat on Westwood early in the round when he started with three birdies in four holes, but after picking up another shot on the par-5 eighth, he had a string of pars before closing with another birdie on the 18th.
Perez birdied the 17th and eagled the 18th to match Fleetwood’s 63.
World number one Brooks Koepka completed a decent finish after a 14-week layoff because of stem cell treatment in his injured left knee with a round of 69. He was tied 34th at eight-under par 280.