Nicolai Hojgaard produces big finish to win season-ending World Tour Championship

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Nicolai Hojgaard claimed the biggest title of his career Sunday after running off five straight birdies down the stretch to win the season-ending World Tour Championship by two strokes.

The 22-year-old Dane delivered a clinic in iron play to set up close-range birdies from Nos. 13-17, shoot 8-under 64 and end the finale to the European tour on 21-under par.

That finish took Hojgaard past Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland, two of the players who acted as mentors to him in his first Ryder Cup last month. Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy — two of golf’s superstars — were in the field in Dubai, too.

Hojgaard beat them all.

“In this field, there’s a lot of guys I look up to,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words. This one feels great.”

Hojgaard has now won a tournament for three consecutive years on the European tour but this was easily his biggest, earning him $3 million.

Coming a few weeks after being a rookie in a winning Ryder Cup team outside Rome, it has been a perfect end to the year for one of the most highly rated young players on the continent.

“The only thing missing was a win,” Hojgaard said. “This is the sweetest way to finish the year.”

Hojgaard was two shots behind Fleetwood walking off the 12th green after making bogey.

Then came that run of birdies, from 8 feet at No. 13, a tap-in at No. 14, 7 feet at No. 15 and back-to-back 4-footers at Nos. 16 and 17.

The pressure ramped up on Fleetwood, playing in the final group. He failed to birdie the par-5 14th, three-putted for bogey at the 17th and then had to eagle the par-5 last.

Fleetwood pushed his drive, had to lay up and after his third shot settled beyond the flag, Hojgaard could celebrate in the scoring hut.

Fleetwood (68) finished in a tie for second place with Hovland (68) and third-round leader Matt Wallace (69) on a day when the lead changed repeatedly at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

It proved to be something of a painful day for Nicolai’s twin brother, Rasmus.

He looked to be on course to claim one of the 10 PGA Tour cards on offer to the top 10 players in the season-ending Race to Dubai rankings who are not already exempt.

A half-hour stretch on the 18th hole changed everything, though. Rasmus Hojgaard hit his second shot into the water guarding the green and only made par. Matthieu Pavon followed him and hit a wedge inside 2 feet for a birdie that lifted him above Hojgaard, who missed out on PGA Tour status by less than 27 points.

The 10 players to get potentially lucrative cards across the Atlantic were Adrian Meronk, Ryan Fox, Victor Perez, Thorbjørn Olesen, Alexander Bjork, Sami Valimaki, Robert MacIntyre, Pavon, Jorge Campillo and Ryo Hisatsune.

Nicolai Hojgaard jumped to second place in the Race to Dubai rankings behind McIlroy, who had already been crowned as European golf’s No. 1 player for the fifth time.

McIlroy was seven shots back after a closing 70 and Rahm, the 2022 champion, shot 66 and tied for fifth at 17 under.

___

AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.