A tournament that started with Tyrrell Hatton being the willing stooge in a joke about angry golfers ended with him smiling the broadest, as he carried off the 2021 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title.
The 29-year-old Englishman shot a sparkling final round 66 to finish the tournament at 18-under par, giving him his first win in the capital, and a fourth win in his past 20 starts worldwide.
Hatton’s vexed demeanour on the course has already become the stuff of legend. So much so that he was happy to parody himself in a social media video created by the European Tour ahead of the tournament, which mocked up a remedial class for golfers with anger issues.
His four-stroke win at the National Course was more or less a cakewalk – as much as it could be, given the stellar field assembled, plus the fact he went out with Rory McIlroy in the last match.
And yet, despite his dominance, he was frequently moved to irritable gesticulations. Many times, he was compelled to heed the advice of Tommy Fleetwood in the viral clip: “If you’re feeling glum, pop up your thumb.”
On day one, he lost it about a drive that just leaked right of the fairway on the par-5 second. At the top of his follow through, he let go of his driver, and aimed two thumbs up at the ball.
On Saturday afternoon, as McIlroy edged just ahead of him at the top of the leaderboard, he saw a putt horseshoe round the hole and stay out. It would have frustrated the most pacific of players. Again, Hatton substituted apocalyptic rage for a thumbs up.
Even with the Falcon Trophy all but his, he could not quite give in to self-satisfaction. He struck his third shot into the safety of the heart of the 18th green, then looked exasperatedly at his caddie while the ball was still in flight, and said: “I’ve not hit it.”
Moments after, there was no hint of triumphalism in his flash TV interview.
“Even knocking the putt in on 18 doesn't seem like I've won the tournament,” Hatton said.
“Obviously it's amazing. I've always loved starting my season here in Abu Dhabi, and to now add my name on that trophy with so many great champions before me is a huge honour.”
He suggested his success had hinged on two pieces of good fortune just after the turn.
“I think the big moment for me today was the putt on 10,” Hatton said, of his putt for birdie.
McIlroy was closer to the hole, on a similar line, with a putt for eagle. It missed, and the momentum was all with Hatton from there on in.
“Maybe that was going eight feet past and just hit the hole,” Hatton said of his effort on the 10th green.
“That's huge. Then my tee shot on 11 pitched on the side of the bunker and came out. We've seen plugged lies in the lip this week, so that was another bit of good fortune. So I think that was a big turning point of the day for me.”
Remarkably, it was an eighth top-three finish for McIlroy in 11 trips to the capital, yet a maiden win remains elusive.
The Northern Irishman had started the day with a one-stroke advantage over Hatton, which he had doubled after making two birdies in the first three holes.
From then on, though, it was Hatton who thrived in the contest, with McIlroy only able to card a level par 72, which matched his mediocre second round on Friday.
By the end, Hatton in first and McIlroy in third were split by Jason Scrivener, whose final round 66 included coming back in 29 shots over the back nine, and gave him second place.
“I don't feel like I played great this week,” McIlroy said.
“I felt like I was managing my game a bit. It was nice to get a competitive week under my belt and see where my game is, and what I need to do to keep on improving.”