Dubai, November 19: Three behind at the start, Nicolai Hojgaard got just what he wanted – a fast start and then he roared away on a birdie-train to win his first Rolex Series title at the DP World Tour Championship. Hojgaard, who led after the first and second days at the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates, shot 8-under 64 and finished at 21-under and won comfortably over the trio that included Tommy Fleetwood (68), Viktor Hovland (68) and Matt Wallace (69), who ended at 19-under.
Hojgaard, whose string of Top-10s this year earned him a Ryder Cup spot, also started his career on the PGA TOUR this year and was second to Matt Wallace at the Corales Puntacana Championships. He was second at last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge but despite a great year, did not have a win to show for it. He did that this week for his third win on the DP World Tour and entered the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time.
Hojgaard also took home $ 3 million as the winner’s prize, while Rory McIlroy, despite his T-22 finish this week, was the winner of the Race to Dubai and took $ 2 million from the Bonus pool of $ 6 million, which is distributed between the Top eight players. Hojgaard got an additional $ 1.2m, taking his winnings from the week to $ 4.2m. Jon Rahm was third on the Race to Dubai and earned a bonus of $ 800,000 in addition to $ 340,000 for his Tied-fifth place.
While the 22-year-old Hojgaard, was focussed on the title this week, his twin brother, Rasmus was among those trying to get one 10 PGA Tour cards that become available from this year.
Hojgaard, calling the win ‘amazing’, said, “I didn’t really think about what kind of tournament or what size or anything else. All week we focused, and to be sitting here now — we talked about it early this year and this week, as well, really wanted to get a win. And to do that, we needed to put in a lot of work, and we put in a lot of work this year. I’m so proud of my team and everyone involved that did put in the work and I couldn’t wish for better people to have around me. It feels amazing, closing out in style with family and friends.”
It was a bitter-sweet day for the Hojgaards. Even as Nicolai grabbed the title, Rasmus was left stranded in the 11th place from among the pack trying to grab a PGA Tour card.
On his brother missing out on a PGA Tour card, he added, “Yeah, seeing how it all turned out today, I really wanted him to get that card. He was in a great position. He’s playing good golf. It came down to a crazy scenario, I think, in the end. You know, 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.”
On Rasmus being with him in the scorers’ tent, he added, “That shows our special bond, even though one of us is in a tough time, we always cheer for each other. The support we have towards each other; I know how he’s feeling. We’ve probably had similar feelings when we go back, but having him there shows character and it shows that deep down, he’s a great guy and (I) absolutely love Ras. He’s my best friend. So having him there was very special. I know how he’s feeling, but he’s going to come back.”
The last of the 10 cards went down to 17th place with Japan’s Ryo Hisatsune taking it. The final 10 were Adrian Meronk, Ryan Fox, Victor Perez, Thorbjorn Olesen, Alexander Bjork, Sami Valimaki, Robert MacIntyre, Mattheiu Pavon, Jorge Campillo and Hisatsune.
Hojgaard, who closed bogey-bogey on the third day, picked three birdies in the first six holes and from there on he was in the mix.
Fleetwood had a fine start. After a birdie he holed a 40-foot eagle to take the lead, But a bogey on fourth and no more birdies on the front stretch meant he was only 2-under for the front nine.
Hovland, trying to win the Tour Championships on either side of the Atlantic, was also 2-under but with four birdies and two bogeys, while the third round hero Wallace was even with one birdie and one bogey.
Hojgaard birdied the 10th and went to 17-under to join Fleetwood and Hovland. A determined Fleetwood seemed to have made a decisive move with birdies on 10th and 11th and as he reached 19-under with seven holes to go. At that stage he was the big favourite. Then the birdies dried up for him till he reached 20-under with a birdie on the 15th.
Hovland found birdies tough to come by, but he stayed in the frame with two gains and no losses and Wallace left it till too late.
Hojgaard after a birdie on the 10th gave back a shot on 12th. Then came the electric charge as he birdied five in a row and leapt from 16-under to 21-under and he even missed a 4-footer for a final birdie on 18th. He was crestfallen for he had left the door open. There were two more groups to follow and they included Fleetwood, Hovland and Wallace.
However, with water coming in the way for many, no one was able to force their way in. Hovland birdied 14th and 16th, but failed to add more gains on the last two. Fleetwood touched 20-under only to fall back to 19-under and barely managed a par on 18th.
Wallace, who birdied the entire back nine a day earlier, managed birdies only on 14th, 15th and 17th. He needed an eagle on the last, but managed just a par on the 18th that did not yield any birdies for the top four.
Nicolai sat in the scorers tent with his brother Rasmus (69, and 14-under) and waited for the final groups to troop in.
Fleetwood and Wallace, playing in the final pairing, needed eagles to force a play-off. It became clear that it was not happening by the second shot and it was time for celebrations for Hojgaard.
As Fleetwood and Hovland signed for a pair of 68s, one better than Wallace (69), they all tied for third two shots ahead of defending champion Jon Rahm, South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence and Frenchman Matthieu Pavon.
Højgaard finished fourth over the Earth Course in his only previous appearance at this event in 2021. He was in the Top-10 of the final Rankings in 2021, but now in 2023 he is second behind Race to Dubai champion Rory McIlroy, who finished the final round in 70 and at 10-under for the week he was T-22.