x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 December 2017

Fleetwood shows plenty of desire to defend Race to Dubai title at Hong Kong Open

Englishman has decent outing on Day 1 of tournament that tees off new European Tour season

Tommy Fleetwood finished tied for eighth after the first round in Hong Kong on Thursday. Anthony Wallace / AFP
Tommy Fleetwood finished tied for eighth after the first round in Hong Kong on Thursday. Anthony Wallace / AFP

Tommy Fleetwood has expressed his delight that his newly won European Tour title will "be on my CV forever", but he has already set his sights on defending his crown next year.

The long-haired Merseysider only sealed the tour's coveted Race to Dubai title last week, but he was straight back into action at the Hong Kong Open, where his pin-point birdie in the opening round kept the pressure on early pacesetters in testing conditions.

It is a tournament he came within two strokes of winning last year, setting in motion a remarkable run that saw him gatecrash the world top 20 and ultimately pip Justin Rose to seal the order of merit title last week in Dubai.

"I'd love to go back-to-back Race to Dubais, and this would be a good week to start, wouldn't it?" said Fleetwood, 26.

Fleetwood, seen as one of the sport's most affable characters, is in no doubt the European Tour victory is his biggest achievement so far. Until 2017 he was a relative outsider, with just one Tour victory to his name.

"[Last season] I wanted to win a tournament again... get back to the top 50 in the world and stuff," he said.

"Every now and again over the last two or three days, I get five, 10 minutes to sit down... you start thinking about it."

"I think the biggest thing is that it's on my CV forever. It's an accomplishment that you'll always have and it's a big one to have in your career."

Playing in a group with fellow Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick and defending tournament champion Sam Brazel, Fleetwood hit an iron shot from 106 yards out to within inches of the hole to card a two-under-par round on the first day of the season-opening event.

"It was a tough day - it was Baltic this morning. Once you get off the fairway it's so difficult," he said. "I'm glad I birdied the last hole really, which made me feel a bit better. I played really nice, I felt comfy out there and hit a lot of nice putts."

Fitzpatrick fared even better on a windy morning, hitting six birdies to finish with a 66 on the par-70 course, one behind lunchtime clubhouse leader SSP Chawrasia of India.

"We had the crowd following Tommy just seeing as how he won the Race to Dubai the other day," Fitzpatrick said. "It's always good to play with Tommy, I played with him when I just started as a pro."

"No offence to him but I've played with him a few times before now, so you get used to it," he joked.

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Whatever happens in the longer term, Fleetwood is eyeing bigger prizes - including making his Ryder Cup debut next year in France.

The competition will be hosted at the same Paris course where he won the French Open this year, but despite Europe's home advantage the Americans are hotly tipped as favourites.

"They're all right! They're decent! You can't deny the Americans... I think they had almost the best team ever the last time out. We've got plenty of good players too," Fleetwood said.

"I feel like it is the biggest sporting occasion in the world and we get the chance to play in it every two years. I want to play multiple Ryder Cups in my career."

After his breakthrough year Fleetwood is also eligible to join the PGA Tour in the US -- home to three of golf's Majors -- but his priority remains closer to home.

"The [British] Open will always be the ultimate for me. I'm not saying it's my best chance, but The Open is the one, if I had to pick one.

"I'll take any, by the way! But if you wanted me to be really picky, I would have to say The Open."