EUROPEAN golf has another baby-faced star. Seven years after Rory McIlroy made his professional debut in the same event, Matt Fitzpatrick won the £3 million British Masters supported by Sky Sports with a polished performance on the Marquess’ Course at Woburn, rewriting the record books in the process.
With a closing 68 for a 15-under-par total of 269, the 21-year-old from Sheffield became this event’s youngest winner, claiming that achievement by 267 days from 2002 champion Justin Rose, and that alone is quite a feat given it was first held in 1972 and has been won by some of the game’s greatest players.
However, add in the fact that this two-shot success means Fitzpatrick has become the youngest player to break into the world’s top 100 – he’s expected to move into the top 60 from 111th when the latest standings are published today – and the future lying ahead of the Yorkshireman could well see him become the heir apparent to European No 1 McIlroy.
“This is an unbelievable feeling and I know it won’t sink in for a long time,” admitted Fitzpatrick, who has moved to the top of the Ryder Cup points table and leapt to 12th in the Race to Dubai after picking up a trophy that had previously been in the hands of players like Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo.
“It was a long day out there but I managed to grind it out to secure the win,” he added of a success that had been coming, the former US Amateur champion having recorded four top-three finishes this season. “I can’t say I remember the British Masters [it had last been played in 2008], but I played around here as junior so came here with fond memories of this place. The support I had from the fans this week was unbelievable and I really appreciate having that support.”
On a pleasant but cold day in the heart of Bedfordshire, the battle for a £500,000 top prize was hanging in the balance until two players – Fitzpatrick and Dane Soren Kjeldsen – found themselves a couple of shots clear on 14-under with four holes to play. Effectively, the title was decided on the par-5 15th. On in two, Kjeldsen sent his eagle attempt racing past the hole and off the green before seeing the return slip agonisingly past. Playing in the match behind, Fitzpatrick was bunkered off the tee, but managed to make birdie by rolling in an 18-footer.
Kjeldsen’s tee shot at the 16th then finished at the base of a lone thin tree in the right rough, from where this year’s Irish Open winner was unable to salvage par and, suddenly, Fitzpatrick held a two-shot lead. Playing the last, he still held that advantage, though Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti was now his closest challenger, and despite closing with a bogey after finding sand with his approach, Fitzpatrick, who was sprayed with champagne after rolling in an 18-foot putt to clinch his sweet success, was not to be denied as he finished two ahead of the Paraguayan, Kjeldsen and Irishman Shane Lowry.
A last-day crowd of 15,421 took the total attendance for the four tournament days to 57,047. That was around half the figure for the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, but, nonetheless, it justified the event being restored after a seven-year absence. “To have the fans come out like they have the last four days has been incredible,” said Ian Poulter, the tournament host on this occasion, with either Luke Donald, Lee Westwood or Justin Rose taking on that role next year, with The Grove rumoured as the venue.
Fitzpatrick joked earlier in the week about how he drives a “five-year-old Ford Mondeo”. Not for much longer, one suspects, after announcing his arrival in golf’s fast lane.