DUBAI: The only thing missing from what has been a stellar season for Nicolai Hojgaard was a win, and the young Dane rectified that on Sunday with a remarkable two-shot victory in the $10.5 million DP World Tour Championship.
At the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates, the 22-year-old seemed out of the reckoning at one stage when he made a bogey from the fairway bunker on the 12th hole. It felt like a costly mistake as he fell to 16-under total, three behind leader Tommy Fleetwood, who was being his usual solid self.
But there is something cathartic about the back nine of the Greg Norman-designed course, at least for Hojgaard. After the first two rounds, he was leading the championship at 11-under par, having done all his scoring on the back nine.
The Ryder Cup rookie pulled himself together and reeled off five straight birdies in an amazing stretch of golf, racing ahead of world No. 15 Fleetwood and No. 4 Viktor Hovland.
But just when it looked like he had left everyone in his wake, Hojgaard failed to make a three-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th, which would have taken him to 22-under.
He left the green despondent, but almost at the same time, Fleetwood three-putted the 17th for a bogey to fall to 19-under, while Hovland dumped his second shot into the water on the par-5 18th and failed to make a birdie.
With both Fleetwood and Hovland closing with rounds of 68, they joined overnight leader Matt Wallace (69) of England at 19-under par, leaving Hojgaard the champion at 21-under.
Winner of two previous DP World Tour titles, including one down the road in Ras Al-Khaimah last year, Hojgaard has played well this season. He secured his card on the PGA Tour card through limited opportunities and made his Ryder Cup debut. And he has now ended the year on a high.
The win takes him to 50th in the Official World Golf Rankings and second in the Race to Dubai, behind Rory McIlroy. With the $1.2 million share from the Bonus Pool and $3 million for winning the tournament, it was a $4.2 million payday for the young Dane.
“It means a lot. It’s the sweetest one,” Hojgaard said. “I put in so much hard work in the last couple years and this year has been a really good year if I look back on it. The only thing that was missing was a win, and to get it this week against this field is unbelievable.
“I can’t believe it’s just happened. Because I was just so focused on the job on the golf course and having a putt on the 18th to actually close it out and let it slip by, it was quite a tough moment for me.
“We were talking about it (the bogey on 12th) out there. Just focus on the job, focus on myself. Don’t worry about what everybody else is doing. We knew there were a lot of birdies on this golf course but at the same time you have to hit the shots, you have to hole the putts and anything can happen coming down the stretch.”
However, it turned out to be a bittersweet moment, as Hojgaard’s twin brother Rasmus fell just short of securing the last of the 10 PGA Tour cards on offer. He finished 18th in the Race to Dubai, one place behind Japan’s Ryo Hisatsune.
“I really wanted him to get that card. He was in a great position,” Hojgaard said. “He’s playing good golf. It came down to a crazy scenario in the end. I feel sorry for Ras but he’s going to bounce back. He always does. He’s one of the best golfers I know and he’s going to come back stronger afterwards.”
McIlroy, who finished tied 22nd but secured his fifth Race to Dubai crown, said: “It’s great. I think it shows my consistency year to year. I think over the last 10 years, I’ve won eight season-long titles between America and here, so it just shows my level of consistency.
“I said to Harry (Diamond, his caddie) on the last green, there are a few guys that can beat me sort of one week or the next week, but I don’t think there’s a lot of people that can beat me throughout the entire season.
“It’s just about trying to be a little more clinical when I get to those weeks where I have chances to win. Overall, it’s been another really solid year. Stroke average has been great and I’ve played really good golf. Hopefully, more of the same going into next year and beyond.”
Besides Hisatsune, the players who secured one of the last 10 PGA Tour cards were: Adrian Meronk, Ryan Fox, Victor Perez, Thorbjorn Olesen, Alexander Bjork, Sami Valimaki, Robert MacIntyre, Jorge Campillo and Matthieu Pavon.