January 21, 2018 / 4:14 PM / in 6 months

Fleetwood fires on back-nine to defend Abu Dhabi title

(Reuters) - Briton Tommy Fleetwood produced a sparkling display on the back nine for a closing round of 65 in gusty conditions to retain his title at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Sunday.

Golf - European Tour - Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship - Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Abu Dhabi, UAE - January 21, 2018 - England's Tommy Fleetwood poses with the trophy. REUTERS/Satish Kumar

The Briton, who cruised home in 30 strokes for a tournament total of 22-under-par 266, was two strokes clear of overnight leader Ross Fisher while four-times major winner Rory McIlroy was tied third alongside Matt Fitzpatrick on 18-under.

The 27-year-old Race to Dubai champion’s tournament-winning total was two shots below the record low score of 24-under-par 264 set by Germany’s Martin Kaymer seven years ago at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Belgian Thomas Pieters, who shared the lead with Fisher after Saturday’s third round, shot a final round of 72 to finish fifth alongside Chris Paisley.

Golf - European Tour - Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship - Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Abu Dhabi, UAE - January 21, 2018 - England's Tommy Fleetwood reacts after winning. REUTERS/Satish Kumar

Fleetwood excelled in difficult conditions, carding six birdies over the closing nine holes and drew praise from McIlroy, who simply said: “That was obscene.”

“I’ve never come to a tournament as defending champion,” Fleetwood, who celebrated his 27th birthday on Friday, said. “It’s a strange feeling because you feel quite possessive over your trophy and you don’t really want to give it back.

“So that’s always been in the back of my mind this week. Luckily enough, I was playing well and I had a chance to win, and the back nine was a very special nine holes. It’s a very, very nice feeling.”

Fisher led for much of the final round before carding 69 while McIlroy, playing in his first event since October, closed with a round of 70.

“My game is in really good shape and I saw some really, really positive signs,” McIlroy, who has slipped to 11th in the rankings, said. “So I’m looking forward to next week in Dubai and obviously looking forward to the rest of the season.”

Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis

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