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DP World Tour Championship: Hojgaard finds greatest joy on Earth

Rory McIlroy, left, and Nicolai Hojgaard display new additions of silverware to their cabinets
19 Nov 2023 23:13

Kuumar Shyam (Dubai)

When Nicholai Hojgaard hit his opening tee shot at the Jumeirah Golf Estates on the final day of the DP World Tour Championship (DPWTC), he let out a swear as his golf ball landed light in the middle of a bunker. The Danish golfer had an up-and-down tournament despite his top-10 position on the leaderboard at the start of the day suggesting otherwise.

Yet, the 2023 Ras Al Khaimah Championship winner proved he has taken a liking to the white sands of the bunkers on UAE's golf courses as he fought back, while others wilted, to win the $10.5 million DPWTC by two shots.

Hojgaard, 22, made five successive birdies from the 13th holes to get back into contention after a bogey on the 12th, and then agonisingly missed a four-footer for a birdie on the 18th. The 8-under 64 round took his total tally to 21-under par, which he felt would not stand with Norway's world No. 4 Viktor Hovland and England's world No. 15 Tommy Fleetwood coming behind him at 20-under.

Incidentally, his brother Rasmus also had started earlier with a wayward opening shot. Both brother lingered on in the scorer's office after Nicholai finished his round and awaited his fate.

Almost at the same time as Nicolai missed his birdie putt, Fleetwood three-putted the 17th for a bogey, while Hovland dumped his second shot into the water on the par-5 18th. Both Fleetwood and Hovland shot rounds of 68 and finished alongside overnight leader Matt Wallace (69) of England at 19-under par.

The win is projected to take Nicolai to 50th place in the Official World Golf Rankings, and helped him climb eight places to world No. 2 in the Race to Dubai Order of Merit behind Rory McIlroy.

The top 10 players got a share of a $6 million bonus pool available at the end of the season finale at the Earth Course in Dubai. This year, the top 10 players, if not already qualified, also get spots on select events at the PGA Tour. It turned out to be a bitter-sweet moment for Nicolai, as his identical twin Rasmus fell one place short in Dubai, which could have secured the last of the 10 PGA Tour cards on offer. Rasmus finished in 18th place. Japan's Ryo Hisatsune at No. 17 took the last available card.

"It means a lot. It's the sweetest one. I put in so much hard work in the last couple years, and this has been a really good year if I look back on it. The only thing that was missing was a win, and to get it this week, against this field, is unbelievable," said Nicolai.

"I can't believe it's just happened. Because I was just so focused on the job on the golf course and having a putt on the 18th to actually close it out, and let it slip by, it was quite a tough moment for me."

The back nine of the Earth course has been good for Nicolai, who was 15-under par for that particular stretch. The bogey from the fairway bunker on the 12th saw him slip to 16-under par, three behind Fleetwood.

"We were talking about it out there. Just focus on the job, focus on myself. Don't worry about what everybody else is doing. We knew there were a lot of birdies on this golf course but at the same time you have to hit the shots, you have to hole the putts, and anything can happen coming down the stretch," said the 2023 Ryder Cup rookie.

McIlroy, who finished tied 22nd on Sunday and has already secured his fifth Race to Dubai crown, said: "I think it shows my consistency year-to-year. I think over the last 10 years, I've won eight season-long titles between America and here. I said to Harry (Diamond, his caddie) on the last green, there are a few guys that can beat me sort of one week or the next week, but I don't think there's a lot of people that can beat me throughout the entire season.

"It's just about trying to be a little more clinical when I get to those weeks where I have chances to win. Overall, it's been another really solid year. Stroke average has been great and I've played really good golf. Hopefully, more of the same going into next year and beyond."

The 10 players who secured their PGA Tour cards included Adrian Meronk, Ryan Fox, Victor Perez, Thorbjorn Olesen, Alexander Bjork, Sami Valimaki, Robert MacIntyre, Jorge Campillo, Matthieu Pavon and Hisatsune.

Race to Dubai prize pool

Player

Bonus (US$)

Rory McIlroy

2,000,000

Nicolai Hojgaard

1,200,000

Jon Rahm

800,000

Adrian Meronk

500,000

Ryan Fox

450,000

Viktor Hovland    

400,000

Victor Perez  

350,000

Tommy Fleetwood   

300,000
Total   6,000,000 
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