England’s Tommy Fleetwood will win on the PGA Tour eventually. The 29-year old Englishman is too good a player to stay winless for long.
Still, after a final round collapse on Sunday in the Honda Classic, Fleetwood remains the only non-winner on the PGA Tour listed in the top 20 of the Official World Golf Rankings. He entered the Honda with a No. 12 ranking and has played in 22 PGA our stops and another 17 major championships or World Golf Championship events without notching the elusive first win.
Twice Fleetwood cracked the top five in the U.S. Open and was one the brink of posting a 62 in the final round at Shinnecock in 2018 until an eight-foot putt refused to drop on the last hole.
Fast forward to Sunday. The shaggy-haired Fleetwood, owner of five wins on the European PGA Tour, claimed his first 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour stop at the rugged Champion Course at PGA National. He had a one-shot lead on playing partner Brendan Steele and a two-shot cushion on fellow Europeans Lee Westwood and Luke Donald to start the final round.
Fleetwood beat them all, but couldn’t handle two young upstarts. Sungjae Im, a 21-year old South Korean, and Mackenzie Hughes, a 29-year old Canadian, got hot playing together in front of Fleetwood. They fired 66s, and Fleetwood couldn’t answer.
Im won the $1,260,000 first prize (plus a new car) by posting a 6-under-par 274. Hughes was one shot behind Im and one ahead of Fleetwood, who settled for a final round 71 than included a critical water ball on his approach shot to the 18th green. Fleetwood needed a birdie there to force a playoff with Im.
“At the end of the day I was really good mentally. I hung in until the end and gave myself a chance,’’ said Fleetwood. “I just said that I don’t feel like I’m getting worse at golf. I’ve just got to keep pushing.’’
He promises to keep doing that.
“I’ve had chances before, and hopefully I’ll continue to have chances,’’ said the affable Fleetwood. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.’’
Fleetwood attributed his failure to get the job done to a lack of tournament play lately.
“I had a bit of a layoff and hadn’t played loads since the end of last year,’’ he said. “Coming out on such a tough golf course, and more than anything proving to yourself that your game is there in a good place, you’re going to move forward.’’
Fleetwood said his first PGA Tour win – whenever it comes — “would be another win. Realistically it’d probably be another step in my career but I’m not going to lie and say `I don’t really mind about winning in America.’ Of course I do. I want to win everywhere, and the PGA Tour is one of those places where I haven’t done it yet.’’
With The Players coming up at TPC Sawgrass later this month and the Masters looming in April Fleetwood will have some bigger stages to get that first win on American soil.
The fields will be a lot stronger than the one he encountered at PGA National. Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed were among those who bypassed the Honda Classic and Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose didn’t survive the 36-hole cut. McIlroy will be the defending champion this week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, in Orlando.
The youngsters who ruled at PGA National, though, will be another power to be reckoned with – Im in particular. He won twice on the PGA’s alternative Korn Ferry Tour in 2018 and was the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year after earning seven top10 finishes in the 2018-19 season.
Im won the Honda in his 50th PGA start at the age of 21 years, 11 months, two days. He’s the youngest champion since Joaquin Nieman won The Greenbrier at 20 years 10 months eight days.