In a first lap overflown by all his class, Matt Fitzpatrick swapped his hunter clothes, in search of first place in the European rankings, for those of the hunted, now in the position of virtual leader, three laps from the final gong of the season. . While the indefatigable world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, double winner of the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estate in Dubai (2012 and 2015), approached this last stage in the shoes of the favorite, it is another regular of the places who stole the show. And how !
Author of five birdies on the first five holes, in overwhelming heat (30 degrees but a little more felt for lack of the slightest breath of air), Matt Fitzpatrick, crowned here in 2016 and 2020, did not agree to round of observation, despite a woozy state. “People probably think it’s the Covid but I’m finehe will say, it’s just a sore throat and a dry cough. »
“We made four birdies in a row and we had a good laugh when I made the fifth. It was a good start to the day. »
From the start, the winner of the US Open at supersonic swing speed showed his intentions with laser iron shots placed at the foot of flags whose positions were however complicated, because very often at the bottom of the green. “I was having fun to be honesthe amused himself. I asked Billy yesterday (Wednesday) (Foster, son caddy) if, during our victory in 2020, we had not made four birdies in a row. And then we did four in a row and we had a good laugh when I did the fifth. It was a good start to the day. »
His aggressiveness could have cost him some wanderings but the game of the Englishman was so in place and controlled that even a drive dropped to the left, in the thick rough of hole n°18, was only punished by a par. Result: with 17 greens in regulation, the 9th in the world signed on the recording a card of 65 (-7) virgin bogey whose recital will be remembered on a go in -6.
“Fortunately there are three laps left, we need a good one tomorrow to be ready for the weekend”
In the part that followed, those of the leaders of the European classification at the start of this 5th and last tournament in the Rolex Series category, Rory McIlroy and Ryan Fox obviously had a lot to talk about. For this first walk side by side between the 33-year-old Northern Irishman and the old New Zealand rookie (35), we will have seen them exchange for a long time between blows without knowing whether the flight to the leaderboard of “Fitzy was at the heart of their concerns.
Still, with a timid 71 (22nd, -1), McIlroy limited the damage but he seems to have already blown a joker. To achieve the FedEx Cup-DP World Tour double that only Henrik Stenson has achieved so far (2013), the slightest mistake in the next three days will leave him little chance if Fitzpatrick maintains his grip.
“It’s definitely not what I was hoping for.regretted the Northern Irishman. At -3 after 8 holes, I thought I had made a good start with a few opportunities to come but started to drive a little sideways on the last nine holes. I made that bogey at 12 and missed two birdies at 14 and 15, and then there was that three-putt at 16. It was good to birdie at 18 to get under par. I’ve had three weeks off since the CJ Cup (where his victory on October 23 lifted him back to world number one), so I’m a little rusty. »
Accustomed to unbridled runs after tournament starts below his usual standards, McIlroy does not admit defeat, far from it. “There were enough good things to remember, five birdies and a few good shotspositive-t-il. I just need to be a little squarer tomorrow. It’s not like there’s anything I need to drastically work on. Luckily there are three laps left, we need a good one tomorrow to be ready for the weekend. » His playing partner Ryan Fox (33rd, +1), the big loser of the day, appears to be already behind for the win.
Perez on the ideal launch pad
On the French side, it is not surprising to find Victor Perez at the forefront, more and more at ease on the Dubai route he is taking for the 4th year. His 6th place in 2020 gave him the right benchmarks and his 69 bogey virgin (-3) this Thursday, which places him in the top 10, is an ideal launching pad. Only Romain Langasque also managed to go below par (22nd, -1) while Antoine Rozner (29th, par) and Matthieu Pavon (41st, +3) failed to seize the opportunities that presented themselves to them.