Tommy Fleetwood has set his sights on winning the Challenge Tour Rankings after capturing his debut title in thrilling fashion at the lucrative Kazakhstan Open.
The 20 year old Englishman, who has been tipped for stardom since joining the professional ranks last year on the back of an illustrious amateur career, rocketed to the top of the Rankings after collecting the€64,000 winner’s cheque.
Fleetwood rounded off the best week of his fledgling career in some style, rolling in a birdie putt from 30 feet on the last hole to secure a two-shot win and become the youngest winner on this year’s Challenge Tour.
He started the day with a two-stroke lead over Simon Thornton, but as the Irishman’s challenge faded it was Fleetwood’s fellow rookie Knut Borsheim who posed the biggest threat to his title aspirations.
The pair were neck and neck for most of the front nine, but the Norwegian stole a march on his rival at the tenth hole, where he hit a sublime approach from the right hand rough to ten feet and duly rolled in the eagle putt to lead the tournament for the first time.
The initiative was handed back to Fleetwood after Borsheim bogeyed his next two holes, but the big hitter from Bergen – who attended the same University as Phil Mickelson and is managed by the same company as ‘Lefty’ – showed great mettle to match his rival’s birdie on the 13th hole.
Another Borsheim bogey at the 15th hole gave Fleetwood the edge again, but when he rallied with a birdie at the 17th, the two men reached the 18th tee level on 14 under par.
To their credit both players found the fairway, but after Borsheim had overhit his approach into the sand and splashed out to 15 feet, Fleetwood settle the matter with a perfectly-weighted birdie putt to sign for a round of 70 and a 15 under par aggregate winning total.
The former English Amateur Champion, whose Dad Pete caddied for him this week, can now look forward to a debut campaign on The European Tour next year after taking his season’s earnings to €107,612.
He said: “It was an unbelievable finish to a fantastic week. It wasn’t particularly pretty golf today, but I hung in there and managed to get the job done in the end. My hands were shaking like a leaf on that last putt so much that I wasn’t sure I was going to make contact with the ball. When it dropped in, the sense of relief was overwhelming.
“Knut came at me from the start and put me under pressure, so I was really delighted with the way I handled it. I’ve been in this position a couple of times before and not managed to close it out, so to get the job done in the biggest tournament we play in was pretty special. I’ve played pretty well all week, so I do feel like I deserve this one.
“Now that I’ve got my first win under my belt, the aim has to be to try to win the Rankings. The first goal was to get my Tour for next season, and now that’s in the bag I’ve got to set new goals. I can enjoy myself a bit more because the pressure’s off, but I don’t want my season to just fizzle out – and my Dad won’t let me! He was great on the bag today, and I owe him a lot. He’s caddied for me for the last three tournaments, and I won on the EuroPro Tour, finished runner-up at the Rolex Trophy, and now I’ve won here. So he hasn’t got a bad record as my caddie!”
Borsheim’s consolation for finishing runner-up was a cheque for €44,000 which catapulted him from 161st place in the Rankings to 19th, and within sight of joining Fleetwood on The European Tour.
The Norwegian said: “I’m pretty happy with how I played this week. I was quite glad Tommy made that birdie putt on the last, because it meant my bogey didn’t make it in the end, so I won’t regret it too much. I tried to attack the pin and I thought I’d hit a good shot, but maybe my adrenaline kicked in and took the ball into the bunker. It’s just one of those things, and I’m sure that when I next get in the same position, I’ll learn from it.
“I was pretty nervous on the back nine and made a couple of stupid bogeys, but I still shot level par so it’s not like I threw the tournament away. And a second place here is better than a win at most other tournaments, so it’s given me a big boost to my Ranking position. My main aim this week was to make sure I get a category on the Challenge Tour next season, which I’ve done, and if I can play well in my remaining events this season, maybe we could upgrade it to a European Tour card.”
Germany’s Bernd Ritthammer shared third place with Thornton on 12 under par after the pair posted respective rounds of 68 and 71.
Thornton said: “I didn’t play particularly well, but I kept plugging away. I got off to an awful start by putting my first drive into the water, and ended up walking off with a double bogey. So my head was a bit all over the place after that, and it took a little while to recover my composure. But at the end of the round I started to read the lines much better on the greens, so I holed a few putts coming home including a nice one for birdie on the last, which could prove very valuable at the end of the season.”