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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood not feeling any 'burden or stress' ahead of season-finale

Englishman leads compatriot Rose heading into the DP World Tour Championship, the final event of the European Tour season. 

Tommy Fleetwood begins the DP World Tour Championship as the Race to Dubai leader and favourite to clinch the end-of-season crown. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images
Tommy Fleetwood begins the DP World Tour Championship as the Race to Dubai leader and favourite to clinch the end-of-season crown. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images

Tommy Fleetwood will take to the first tee at the DP World Tour Championship on Thursday around lunchtime, look across at his playing partner and see a man he says “has done pretty much everything I’d like to do in the game”.

At 11 years his senior, Justin Rose has crammed quite a lot into his career. Most of which makes up Fleetwood’s golfing win-list. Major champion: check. Olympic gold: check. Ryder Cup winner: check. European No 1: check.

It is the last one that especially occupies the mind this week. With one event to go in the Race to Dubai, Fleetwood is frontrunner, leading second-placed Rose by 256,737 points. Sat third, Sergio Garcia is in the running, too, but such are the permutations required that European Tour stats boffins rank his chances as little as three per cent.

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A fellow Englishman and a good friend to boot, Rose represents Fleetwood's chief threat at Jumeirah Golf Estates. To claim a first Order of Merit, he needs to equal or better Rose’s result on the Earth course.

Twice runner-up at the event, Rose could be considered the form horse as well, having won back-to-back in his past two starts. He therefore forms a formidable foe. Not that Fleetwood, 26, appears too worried.

“It's not intimidating, it's not stressful in any way,” he said on Wednesday. “Not sure ‘nervous’ is the right word, but it's like the good kind of nerves where you're trying to win the Race to Dubai. It's not by no means a burden or stressful. It's something that I'm massively, massively looking to these four days. It's brilliant.

"It's actually an amazing opportunity and it's a massive privilege. I'm turning up tomorrow, final event of the year, and playing with Justin Rose trying to win a Race to Dubai. Sergio could win it, as well. Sergio, Justin Rose and then me: that's pretty cool, that.”

That could be the best way to describe Fleetwood’s demeanour. It seems unlikely to be mind games, more the result of a year he describes as the most significant in his career “by a long way”.

What feels a long way back now, he began 2017 brilliantly by winning January’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship – his first title in more than three years - then added the Rolex Series event in France in June. In between, Fleetwood finished second twice, including once at a World Golf Championship, and fourth at the US Open.

That performance at Erin Hills, in particular, should stand him in good stead now. There, Fleetwood registered his best result in a major, at the same time realising he had the game to go toe-to-toe with golf’s finest. It is the biggest thing he learnt this year.

“Experiences like that just prove to yourself more than anything,” he said. “Even if you think you can or you say you can, you have to still do it.”

Rose has certainly been there and done it. A 2013 US Open champion, he is chasing a second Order of Merit after topping the standings in 2007. Seeking to emulate that, Fleetwood has leaned on Rose at times for advice, since the two converse regularly.

“I have masses of respect for him as a golfer and as a person,” Fleetwood said. “You can't help but learn off people like that. They have done everything you can do in the game pretty much, and those are the kind of people you should look up to, because there's a reason they have been so successful.”

Still, he hopes Rose won’t be quite as successful this week.

“I'm not going to lie, I would prefer him not to do well,” Fleetwood said. “I know there's no way to avoid looking at what he's doing. I would be such a liar if I said I'm not even going to watch one shot, that I'm going to concentrate on what I'm doing, because you just can't do it.

"I'm not wishing bad on him, but, you know, have a decent week, not an amazing week.”

No matter what, it’s been an amazing year for Fleetwood already. Six weeks ago, he became a father for the first time. Fiancee Clare - also his manager - and baby are both in Dubai, ready to see if Dad can be crowned Europe’s best golfer in the same year little Franklin was born.

“Yeah, I don't know how much he'll care,” Fleetwood said, smiling. “He definitely won't care this week, no matter what I do. It's something that I would love to do. It would be nice to walk off 18 and I'd have done it in the year he was born.

"If I can finish it off this week, 2017 will take some beating, I guess.”

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