Tommy Fleetwood falls just short of third Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship despite sizzling 63

Englishman pleased with form after another fine Sunday showing, reeling off nine birdies to finish tournament as joint runner-up on 17-under par

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As birthday presents go, presumably the Falcon Trophy would’ve ranked pretty high on Tommy Fleetwood's wish list on Sunday.

Celebrating the “last year of my 20s”, the freshly turned 29-year-old came close to victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA, but in the end had to settle for a share of second.

It is just as well, then, that he already has done it twice. Champion in 2017 and 2018, Fleetwood was looking to become only the second golfer to seal a hat-trick in the capital.

But a sizzling 63 was still not enough to see off Lee Westwood, his English compatriot who ended up winning by two. In the end, Fleetwood was joint runner-up on 17-under par, alongside Matt Fitzpatrick and Victor Perez.

Saying that, a cheque for €468,783 (Dh1.9 million) would help ease the disappointment, even if Fleetwood's more concerned these days with golfing bounty than his banking.

And besides, he received plenty of the gifts before his round anyway. “Some nice clothes this morning, little journal, some nice cards,” Fleetwood said. “No money in the cards, like there used to be. It’s always nice when you used to get a tenner in the cards. Nothing happening there any more.”

As a world No 10, and former European No 1, thankfully cash should never be a problem. Neither should this season, considering Fleetwood reckons he’s hitting his irons better than all of last year, when he finished runner-up in the Race to Dubai.

And when, clearly, the momentum has been maintained through the off-season. In Abu Dhabi, Fleetwood enjoyed another fine Sunday showing, reeling off nine birdies to join Victor Perez as an early clubhouse leader. It meant his past three competitive final rounds read 65, 65, 63.

“A good habit,” Fleetwood said. “I was actually looking through my journal this morning and remember writing down trying to make Sundays your best day. Because you always end up feeling better if you’ve played well on Sundays.

“Throughout last year, events like the Dunhill, Korea, Japan, China, Nedbank and Dubai, I always finished really, really well. It’s nice when that’s happening because you know whenever you wake up on Sunday morning – it’s not going to happen for ever – but you have that little bit of confidence that you could make a good push.”

Seeking a third Abu Dhabi title, and sixth on the European Tour, Fleetwood pushed hard, despite admitting that he never really felt Westwood would surrender his advantage.

He was left to rue more his Saturday, when a couple of leaked tee shots and some missed putts ultimately made a major difference.

Yet he won't be too hard on himself.

“Five-under was the worse [Saturday] could’ve been,” Fleetwood said. “Easily could’ve been two or three better. I’ll look back on yesterday and think what could I do. But it’s not a big deal; I’ve played great, great golf.”

Overall, though, a very promising start to his 30th year. “You never want to put too much pressure on it because whatever happens you’ve a long year ahead of you,” Fleetwood said. “The year goes quick, but it’s still a long time and you have to take each week as it comes.

“I’ve been lucky because I’ve won here twice, and I’ve started off very, very well, shown some really good golf, so it’s nice to take it into next week. It’s something to build on. It’s not the be all and end all; it’s the first event of the year. It’s just that it’s a Rolex Series event, a big event and you want to start off well.

“But it’s nice, like it was in 2018 after 2017. It was nice once you’ve had a really good break to come back and just be able to carry on.”