A second victory at the season-ending Tour Championship was not enough for Matthew Fitzpatrick to prevent Lee Westwood from creating history in Dubai. At 47 years, seven months and 20 days, Westwood became the oldest player to claim the European Tour’s order of merit title, now called the Race to Dubai. The scale of Westwood’s longevity is emphasised by the fact this is his third order of merit crown, 20 years after his first. At 26, Fitzpatrick appears a mere pup in comparison. A sport for all ages indeed.
“The motivation’s never changed,” said Westwood. “I get up each day and do the job I love. I’ve always wanted to be a golfer and I don’t want it to end so I’m prepared to keep working hard and put myself in the line of fire and try and get into contention in tournaments. It’s where I’m most comfortable and what I love doing. I love the work away from the course and the gym and on the range, the hard work that people don’t see, I love that. I don’t need to motivate myself very often.”
Fitzpatrick’s tournament success came at 15 under par, by one from Westwood, after a Sunday 68. The Yorkshireman – who also prevailed at the Earth Course in 2016 – stood firm as others wilted. The most crucial putt of Fitzpatrick’s week came for a bogey at the 17th, meaning par on the last would do. Patrick Reed’s short game, outstanding for three days, suddenly deserted him as he signed for a 70, which meant a share of third with Viktor Hovland. Reed, therefore, fell short in his quest to become the first American winner of the Race to Dubai.
Fitzpatrick’s sixth European Tour success, but first since 2018, is likely to move him to a career-high of 16th in the world rankings. This marked quite the turnaround; Fitzpatrick felt his game was “nowhere to be seen” at the Masters in early November.
“I’ve had some of the best warm-ups in my career this week,” Fitzpatrick said. “I really was hitting it very, very well and felt very comfortable on the range, then going and taking it to the golf course.
“All I was bothered about this week was winning. I turned up obviously 16th in the Race to Dubai so that didn’t really enter my head if I’m honest. I just wanted to win this week. With the work that I’ve put in the last couple of weeks on my game, it just felt like it kind of clicked. I set high standards for myself and can be hard on myself. Right now I’m really, really happy.”
Westwood needed to remain outright second to take the overall award. After a 68, his fate lay in the hands of others. As Westwood looked on, a Laurie Canter eagle at the last was the final thing that could deny him. Canter cracked his second shot at the par five into a hospitality tent, meaning Westwood was all but home. The celebrations were soon official.
“On Monday I didn’t even know if I was going to play,” said Westwood, in reference to a pre-tournament back problem. “The two lads in the physio unit have done an incredible job on me. They have stretched me in places I didn’t think I had, and they have given me a massage twice a day. They are really the ones that kept me going this week.”
Fitzpatrick finished second in the order of merit, with Reed third. Tommy Fleetwood and Collin Morikawa completed the top five. Westwood’s winning margin was a mere 18 points which, by his own assessment, is equivalent to the price of a pint in Dubai.
Ryder Cup qualification does not restart until the new year, which means Westwood’s placing does not officially have wider meaning. He has, though, confirmed he should be a key part of Padraig Harrington’s thinking in respect of Europe’s bid to retain the trophy next September in Wisconsin. A Westwood appearance would be his 11th in the Ryder Cup.
“Lee is the definition of this tour,” added Fitzpatrick. “He is a phenomenal player and has been for so long. I can’t speak highly enough of him.”
While Fitzpatrick strode off with a trophy of his own, this felt entirely like Westwood’s day. Again.