Ryder Cup teammates Matt Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy are hoping their strong individual records over the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates can inspire them to further success at this week’s European Tour season-finale, the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
Defending champion Fitzpatrick claimed the final Rolex Series title of the season for the second time last year, having previously won in 2016, while McIlroy is also a multiple winner of the tournament, having been the champion in 2012 and 2015, with six other top ten finishes to his name in his ten appearances.
Both players have tasted victory since they were part of the defeated European Team at September’s Ryder Cup – McIlroy claiming The CJ Cup @ Summit on the PGA TOUR and Fitzpatrick securing his seventh European Tour title at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters in the same week.
At 20th position on the Race to Dubai, McIlroy is too far behind leader Collin Morikawa to become European Tour Number One for a fourth time, but Fitzpatrick, who is sixth on rankings, is one of five players who could potentially still dislodge the Open Champion this week, along with American Billy Horschel, Englishmen Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton and Australian Min Woo Lee.
Fitzpatrick, Casey, Hatton and Lee each need a victory to stand any chance of winning the Race to Dubai, while Horschel needs to win 237 more Race to Dubai points than his compatriot if he is to become the first American winner of the European Tour’s season-long contest.
Matt Fitzpatrick: “It’s really nice to be back. I have nice memories from 2016, and then obviously last year as well. You know the course like the back of your hand. And played this morning in the Pro-Am, and I’m thinking I could probably play it blindfolded anyway. So it is very nice to come out.
“The big thing for me is the greens are just so pure. They get really fast, they get firm. I feel like it’s already quite firm.
“And statistically speaking why it suits me is because there’s a few more long irons, and apparently on paper I’m a bit better with my long irons than my mid irons and short irons. A few more of those, which helps. And like I said, the greens are so good.
“In terms of last year’s performance, I just remember I was struggling coming into it. I wasn’t playing great. And me and Mike had a great, great session or two sort of the weekend before and then leading into it. And then Monday, Tuesday was really good. I felt like I was swinging it really well, all of a sudden, from not really anywhere.
“And I had a great feeling, and I knew what the club was doing pretty much every time. And it just made it so much easier when you’re out there when you feel so comfortable.
“I feel like getting the win at the end of last year gave me some good confidence going into the start of the year, which probably showed in my performance as I played really well, got off to a great start. My game was as good as it’s ever been, apart from some of my approach play.
“And then winning Valderrama for me it felt like a bit of a justification for how well I played the Ryder Cup, but obviously I had nothing to show for it. I felt like it was coming, and it did in the end, which was great, at Valderrama.”
Rory McIlroy: “I feel like it’s been a year of exploration, learning. There’s been some good parts, obviously the couple wins in the States were nice. I was tied for the lead with nine holes to go at a major championship, at the U.S. Open.
“There’s been some good stuff in there. I’ve worked hard. I’ve learned a few things. And I feel like I’ve sort of went through that sort of barrier, struggle, if you will, and then I came through the other side of it.
“It’s been an interesting year. I don’t regret any of it. I think it’s been a good year. Happy to be here. Happy to feel like my game is in good shape. I’ll play here, play Tiger’s event in the Bahamas in a couple weeks’ time. I feel like I’m playing well. I got some confidence from the win in Vegas. Try to finish the year on a high.
“After the Ryder Cup, I didn’t really know what I was going to do. But I decided to play a bit more and try to push through some of the things I was working on in my game.
“As I said, I came through the other side of that. So it’s important to be here. I missed it last year because of COVID. I just didn’t want to deal with the travel and the bubble and that sort of stuff.