Real Club Valderrama in Sotogrande, Spain turned out to be a tough test for the European Tour golfers, as just 14 players finished under part at the Estrella Damm NA Andalucia Masters. But as the contenders all struggled on Sunday, Matthew Fitzpatrick was steady with a 2-under 69 and cleared the field by three strokes on his way to winning this event for the first time.
Matthew Fitzpatrick made 15-straight pars to start the day and then logged birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to virtually secure the win. He finished with a par on 18 for the bogey-free round and the win by three over Australian Min Woo Lee and Swede Sebastian Soderberg.
Fitzpatrick made history by becoming the first Englishman to win this event, and he said that doing so at Valderrama—site of the 1997 Ryder Cup—made it extra special.
“It’s on the bucket list to win round Valderrama with the history that it has. To do it bogey-free on Sunday as well is extra special,” Matthew Fitzpatrick said after his round. “it’s amazing, particularly the way I did it—very patient all day, didn’t try to press anything, stuck to our targets, and managed to hole the putts at the end. I’m delighted with the win.”
The 27-year-old Fitzpatrick was playing his first event since the Ryder Cup golf competition three weeks ago. He’s now fifth in the Race to Dubai Rankings after his first win of the European Tour season and his seventh overall. He struggled a bit this year, with a second-place finish at the Scottish Open in July being his only other top-10 finish of 2021. His best finish at the four majors was a 23rd at the U.S. PGA Championship golf tournament. His last win was at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai last December.
Fitzpatrick became the fourth-youngest Englishman to reach seven European Tour wins, with Peter Oosterhuis, Lee Westwood, and Nick Faldo being the only ones to do it quicker. But afterward, Fitzpatrick was still marveling at the patience he had to exude to win here.
“You can hit half-decent shots and be behind a tree and you’re chipping out or you’ve got to maneuver something; it’s a true test and to be patient the whole 72 holes, I’m really pleased with the way my attitude was all week.”
Laurie Canter led by three strokes going into Sunday and was at -8 after the fifth hole before things went south. He double-bogeyed No. 8 and three-putted No. 9 for a bogey to lose the lead. He ended up with a five-over 76 in the final round and finished tied for fourth at -2.
“Didn’t work out for me,” Canter, who is still seeking his first win on the European Tour, wrote on Twitter. “Loved competing at Valderrama and the challenge it provided.”
Soderberg was in contention for much of the day on Sunday. He put an approach within three feet for a birdie on No. 2, birdied the par-3 third, and eagled the par-5 fourth hole to gain four shots in just three holes. He took the lead from Canter on the 11th hole with a birdie on the par-5, but he gave it back on No. 13 with a bogey.
Soderberg continued to hold on to a one-shot lead to the 17th hole, but he lost his tee shot and ended up carding a double bogey, which set him into a three-way tie with Canter and Fitzpatrick. He couldn’t recover on No. 18, where he bogeyed as well. Fitzpatrick then birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to suddenly have a three-shot lead, which he maintained with the par on No. 18 to win.
Soderberg, whose only European Tour win was in August 2019 at the Omega European Masters, has struggled all year, so even in defeat, there is plenty of good to take out of this event. Prior to this event, his best finish this year was a 17th at the D+D Real Czech Masters in August, and he had missed the cut in three of his last four events.
Lee birdied all three par-5s on the course and also gained a stroke on the first and seventh holes, but he carded four bogeys on the day as well, settling for a 70 and tying for second place with Soderberg. He was angling for his second win of the season (Scottish Open in July) and the third of his career, as he won the ISPS Handa Vic Open in February 2020 for his first victory.
It was a rough week for the home-countrymen, as World’s No. 1 golfer Jon Rahm missed the cut after shooting an opening-round 78 and then a 74 on Friday. Last week’s winner, Rafa Cabrera Bello, was tied for 25th at +2, and the highest-finishing Spaniard was Pablo Larrazabal, tied for 20th at +1.
After becoming the top-ranked golfer over the summer, leading a charge to a second-place finish at the Tour Championship and a runner-up finish in the FedEx Cup standings on the PGA Tour, followed by the pressure of leading the European team at the Ryder Cup and then playing in front of home-country fans the last two weeks, Rahm said he’s due to a mental break before the Dubai event closes out the European Tour season.
“This is the first time in my life that I don’t want to see a golf club, and this comes from someone who loves this sport and after a year in which some pretty good things have happened to me,” Rahm said after missing the cut, which included the 78, tying his worst round as a pro. “More than my body, it is my mind that can’t take it. If we add it all up, I need to rest.”
There are three events remaining in the Race to Dubai, as next week’s Mallorca Golf Open is the end of the Spanish swing before the Portugal Masters the following week. Then it’s the AVIV Dubai Championship from Nov. 11-14 and the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai the following week to wrap up the European Tour season.
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