Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick once again proved his skill on the Earth course greens with a putting masterclass which saw him move into pole position in his quest to emulate Henrik Stenson as the only players ever to win the DP World Tour Championship two years on the bounce.
The big Swede achieved that feat in 2013-2014 and the Englishman has given himself a strong chance to follow in his Ryder Cup team mate’s footsteps after firing a second consecutive five under 67 to move into a one stroke lead over compatriot Tyrrell Hatton at 10 under par at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Fitzpatrick looked comfortable with the putter all day long as he rattled off an eagle and five birdies, none more spectacular than a 25-footer to sign off his round in style in front of the packed galleries on the par five 18th.
“It was great to hole the 25-footer on the last,” said the four-time European Tour winner. “I said to my caddie Jamie that we’ve been putting really, really well all week so far. It was actually the first one from that sort of length and we felt like was a fairly easy read, kind of right-to-left and slightly downhill. That’s all there was to it. It was nice to see it go in.”
Hatton had set the clubhouse target earlier in the day with a sensational nine under 63 which included eight birdies and an eagle on the par four fifth to get to nine under for the tournament. His round would have been even better but for a bogey at the last when he failed to get out of the greenside bunker.
“If you said at the start of the day I would shoot nine under, I would be over the moon,” said Hatton, who also bogeyed the last in the final round here last year to finish one stroke back from Fitzpatrick. “But it’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow on 18. That hole seems to hate me. Hopefully one day I’ll actually play it well. But overall, I’m really happy with today.”
Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat continued his impressive start to the tournament by following up his opening 69 with a five under 67 to move to eight under par. Joining him in a share of third place is rising star Julian Suri who again looked at ease in his debut DP World Tour Championship appearance with a second consecutive 68 and Race to Dubai challenger Justin Rose. The Englishman didn’t quite reach the heights of his opening round of 66, posting a second round 70 which ended with a frustrating bogey at the last.
“It’s actually a tricky one to try to sum up,” said Rose. “I drove the ball really, really well, which obviously set up an opportunity to shoot a really good score. I would say the putter really was the weakest link today. I had a really hard time reading the greens. That was what I found the hardest.
“I hit such a good tee shot down 18. To make six just ends the day on the wrong, note but other than that, I played really well on the back nine.”
Meanwhile Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood delivered the perfect response to Rose’s Race to Dubai assault by firing a spectacular seven under 66 to move to six under for the tournament in a share of 11th place, getting his bid to be crowned European Number One back on track after a forgettable one over 73 in the opening round.
“It’s all about how you react to stuff, isn’t it? It was a big day,” said the 26 year old before revealing that the key to his quick recovery was in letting go of the frustration of his opening round as quickly as possible. “You get over it, you move on and remind yourself there still three rounds of golf left to play; now there’s two. My swing felt a lot better. I was on the putting green till dark last night and today was just a much better today.
“There’s still a tournament to play for and there’s still a Race to Dubai to play for, so there are two things going on and you’ve just got to concentrate on one, take each day as it comes and try and do your best in the tournament.
“I needed a low one for both purposes but the only thing that you can control is the tournament. In the Race to Dubai, I can’t do anything about the maths or what Justin does so the sole focus was to try to get back into this event.”
With everything still to play for in the duel battle for Race to Dubai and DP World Tour Championship glory, golf fans are in for a treat as the European Tour’s season-ending grand finale enters the final two days at Jumeirah Golf Estates.