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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Matthew Fitzpatrick happy despite missing out on course record at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

The Englishman admitted his mind wandered towards milestones during his round of 63 which has left him two shots off the lead ahead of Sunday's final day.

Matthew Fitzpatrick was pleased with his round of 63 on the third day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images
Matthew Fitzpatrick was pleased with his round of 63 on the third day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images

Matthew Fitzpatrick was aged 11 when the course record was set in Abu Dhabi.

A future Ryder Cup teammate did it, back in the tournament's inaugural run in 2006, when Henrik Stenson posted a 10-under-par 62 on Saturday on his way to an eventual runner-up finish.

Twelve years on, Fitzpatrick went oh-so-close to matching the feat. Through 12 holes of his third round at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA, the young Englishman was 9-under.

Then his mind began to wander. Not only to the National Course record, but something more. Golf’s magical mark.

“You're always thinking 59, you really are,” Fitzpatrick said on Saturday. “It's difficult not to. Even though I wasn't playing great, I knew how well I was putting and I felt if I could just give myself those chances on the greens, I could make the putts, basically.

“So I didn't feel it would take much to just pick up a few more birdies. I only needed four. I knew 18 was obviously reachable and then a couple of those, you just get it nearby the hole and you sort of try and take your chance. But it's so difficult.”

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So it proved. Fitzpatrick played his final six holes in even par, bogeying 16 before getting back the shot on 18. In the end, he scribbled down a still-impressive 63.

Although Stenson’s record remains intact - unrivalled, even – the 2016 DP World Tour Championship winner is in with a shout for a second UAE title.

At 15-under for the tournament, Fitzpatrick lies tied-fourth on the leaderboard going into the final round. He has Tommy Fleetwood, the defending champion, for company.

Both sit two shots off frontrunners Thomas Pieters and Ross Fisher, with a returning Rory McIlroy sandwiched between. Roll on Sunday.

“At the end of the day, the game is all about scoring, and obviously I've scored ridiculously well today,” Fitzpatrick said, despite conceding he had to work hard for his score.

“That's what's nice. I'm back in the tournament and it's something at the start of the year that I wanted to do is contend more. First week back is always nice. It's always a good start.”

He was quickly out of the blocks on Saturday. Fitzpatrick went out in 29, labelling it his second-best nine holes in three full seasons on the European Tour. He carded a 28 at the 2015 KLM Open.

Somewhat surprisingly, Fitzpatrick suggested he has performed better on the whole.

“It’s a real funny one for me today because I don't feel like tee-to-green I played that well,” he said. “I'm sure people will be sat at home thinking, ‘he must have played well’. “Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of good approaches, but just struggled a little bit off the tee.”

Just as well his putter was Abu Dhabi-summer hot.

“Maybe take it to bed, I don't know,” said Fitzpatrick, when asked how he will ensure the flat-stick maintains its heat through Sunday. “Just try to carry on with everything I've been doing.”

Another 63 seems an obvious way to continue.

“If I go out and shoot the same score, I'll be a happy man,” he said. “I think it will be tough to beat.”