By Mathieu Wood
With five different winners across a five-event stretch in the Middle East, the International Swing has so far celebrated the global nature of the membership on the DP World Tour.
Following on from the Opening Swing at the tail end of last year, the second of five global swings on the 2024 Race to Dubai has so far seen champions emerge from three different continents.
As the schedule pauses for a one-week break, we summarise five key talking points before the International Swing concludes with three consecutive events in Africa.
New year starts with a bang as Ryder Cup stars shine in Dubai
The opening event of the new year saw two of Europe’s finest players battle it out for victory at the inaugural Dubai Invitational. Months after teaming up to help Team Europe to Ryder Cup success in Rome, Tommy Fleetwood edged out Rory McIlroy to claim his seventh DP World Tour title and first since the 2022 Nedbank Golf Challenge. A birdie-birdie finish helped the Englishman finish one stroke ahead of McIlroy and South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence. After registering five top tens, including a runner-up finish at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, the Dubai resident felt the victory was overdue. “Like almost everybody else in the world of golf, I don't win anywhere near as much as I would like to but just that winning feeling is great,” he said.
While McIlroy was left with some regrets on his return to action for the first time since lifting his fifth Harry Vardon Trophy following the conclusion of the DP World Tour Championship, the Northern Irishman more than made up for that disappointment with a history-making win at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. After a sluggish start, the four-time Major champion found himself ten shots adrift of the lead, but he produced a bogey-free 63 on Moving Day to sit two adrift of American star Cameron Young. With scoring proving tougher in the final round, McIlroy surged four clear through 12 holes before recovering from a bogey at the par-five 13th to par his way in and card a closing 70 and seal a one-shot victory over Adrian Meronk. With the victory - a record-breaking fourth title at the Rolex Series event - the reigning European Number One climbed to the summit of both the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex and the International Swing, a position he continues to retain. “It’s a great platform to build from,” he said. “I know I’m playing good golf. A couple little things still to work on but these weeks are great. You learn a ton from them and obviously great to get the competition and come out on top as well.”
Denmark playing key part in great times for Scandinavian golf
There is no lack of strength in depth in Scandinavia on the global stage. After the breakthrough of Sweden’s worldwide star Ludvig Åberg last year and success enjoyed by Vincent Norrman on both the DP World Tour and PGA TOUR, Denmark’s crop of professional golfers have made a big impression so far this year. Rasmus Højgaard has finished no worse than a tie for 11th across the five events so far on the International Swing to sit second on the International Swing rankings. His twin brother Nicolai also finished in the top ten at the Dubai Desert Classic, two months on from claiming his first Rolex Series title at the DP World Tour Championship and has since taken his good form across the Atlantic to finish runner-up to Matthieu Pavon at the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA TOUR. Another Dane who is performing near to his best is Thorbjørn Olesen, with the 2018 Ryder Cup winner claiming his eighth DP World Tour title at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship with a dominant six-shot victory. In an Olympic year, Denmark’s team Captain Thomas Bjørn will be thrilled with what he is seeing as competition for a spot in the field at Le Golf National ramps up.
Perseverance pays off for Frittelli with comeback win
After a difficult 2023, in which Dylan Frittelli missed the cut or withdrew from 23 of his 27 starts on the PGA TOUR, the South African said he was "invigorated" to be back on the DP World Tour. As part of the Strategic Alliance between the PGA TOUR and the DP World Tour, he took up a route back onto the latter for those who finished outside the top 125 on the FedExCup Fall Points List. The 33-year-old began the final round with a two-shot lead but was overtaken at the turn as a host of players staked a claim for the trophy, before three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the back nine saw him claim his first DP World Tour title in six years with a two-shot success at Royal Golf Club. “It was a pretty tough year last year in America, but it feels awesome to back on top right now,” said 2016 European Challenge Tour graduate Frittelli of his victory on the DP World Tour’s return to the Kingdom of Bahrain for the first time in 13 years. “Last year I was in a couple of spots where I thought I was giving the game up to be honest and looking for something else. I found some resolve at the end of last year and got some good work from my physio and my coaches and trainers. I'm glad I persevered and all the support from family and friends has been well worth it."
Hoshino becomes newest Japanese winner on Tour
Less than six months on from Ryo Hisatsune claiming his first DP World Tour title, Japan celebrated its fourth entrant to the DP World Tour winner’s circle at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. With birdies at two of his final three holes, Rikuya Hoshino followed Isao Aoki, Hideki Matsuyama and 2023 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Hisatsune as Japanese winners on Tour. Hoshino, a six-time winner in his homeland on the Japan Golf Tour, finished runner-up in his first two starts of the season in Australia but was not to be denied again as he produced a strong finish in Doha to become the first Japanese winner of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. Now second on the Race to Dubai Rankings, the 27-year-old may now have his sights set on emulating Hisatsune in earning dual membership status on the DP World Tour and PGA TOUR next year by finishing among the top ten players not already exempt on the season-long rankings. With former World Number One amateur Keita Nakajima making an impression on the DP World Tour in his rookie season with full playing rights also among a contingent that includes Masahiro Kawamura, it wouldn’t be a surprise if more Japanese players were to emerge with a victory this season.
Challenge Tour graduates make quick step up in rookie campaign
With three Challenge Tour graduates in the top 20 on the Race to Dubai Rankings, it would be remiss to not highlight the starts made by a trio of new faces on the DP World Tour so far this season. With runner-up finishes in South Africa and Bahrain, Sweden’s Jesper Svensson is the top ranked so far from the Class of 2023 with French duo Ugo Coussaud (13th) and Frederic Lacroix (16th) just behind. Coussaud, who had played on the Challenge Tour since 2018 prior to promotion at the end of last year, was impressive in his second-place finish to Hoshino in Qatar while Lacroix was third in Ras Al Khaimah and has two further top tens to his name so far this season. Their performances showcase the talent on the Challenge Tour and demonstrates the quality of grounding they receive before transitioning onto golf’s global Tour.
What's still to come on the International Swing?
|Magical Kenya Open
|Muthaiga GC, Nairobi, Kenya
|29 February - 3 March
|St. Francis Links, Eastern Cape, South Africa
|Jonsson Workwear Open
|Glendower Golf Club, Dowerglen, Edenvale, South Africa