Tommy Fleetwood produces stunning round to defend Abu Dhabi title as McIlroy falls short 2 years ago

Tommy Fleetwood produces stunning round to defend Abu Dhabi title as McIlroy falls short

The Northern Irishman couldn't quite stick the pace but Fleetwood was in a class of his own.

Tommy Fleetwood is getting good at this winning lark. The 27-year-old Englishman put together a glorious back nine on Sunday to successfully defend his Abu Dhabi Championship title with a score of -22, pipping his fellow countryman Ross Fisher by two shots and Rory McIlroy, who was a further two back, in the process.

Fleetwood enjoyed a star-making season in 2017 in which he clinched the Race to Dubai title but his performance here suggests that he's going to be a factor in the biggest tournaments for many years to come.

On a day when the wind became an increasing concern for the field, Fleetwood produced a string of shots out of the top drawer to storm to his fourth European Tour win and third in the last 12 months.

It left Fisher, who had enjoyed the lead for much of the round, with the familiar feeling. The 37-year-old finished runner-up at both the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open last season and looked for all the world as though he was going to go one better here. However, as he wobbled with bogeys at the 10th and 15th, Fleetwood was tearing through the back nine.

Having gone to the turn in an unspectacular 35, the Southport native birdied the 10th, 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th to catapult him into pole position. He did it in style, too, reaching -21 for the tournament after draining monster putts on the 15th and 16th.

But it just didn't quite happen for McIlroy. The 28-year-old dropped just one shot in the first three rounds and has looked razor sharp all week but, as the tournament edged towards a climax, loose shots began creeping into his game.

The Holywood man started strongly with two birdies in his first four but his momentum took a hit with a dropped shot at the 6th. After getting that shot back two holes later, McIlroy failed to find another birdie as Fleetwood blazed a trail nobody could match. A final round of 70 was good enough only for a tie of third-place on -18 alongside Thomas Pieters and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

He may not have won but McIlroy will draw tremendous confidence from the way he played throughout the week, showing little signs of rust after three months away from competitive golf.

It was a day to forget for Paul Dunne, though, the Greystones man struggling to a 74 after a stellar 65 had out him in a good position by the end of Saturday.

But Fleetwood will deservedly get the plaudits for his endeavours. Coming home in 30, it was a striking demonstration of his credentials at the highest level. If you want a measure of how exceptional that is, the field's average on the back nine for the final round was 35.8.

After pulling his approach to the par-5 18th, Fleetwood conjured up a majestic bunker shot to set up a birdie putt. He duly sank it for a 65 to reach -22 and put him beyond Fisher's reach.

Fleetwood was top of the pile in last year's Race to Dubai. With this win, he's back on top again and it will take a mighty effort to dislodge him if he repeats his heroics in the desert here today.