By Mathieu Wood
During the DP World Tour Championship trophy presentation, Nicolai Højgaard quipped to Rory McIlroy the winning feeling was unfamiliar. In response, the Northern Irishman said he would soon become accustomed to it.
Both players – Ryder Cup teammates only six weeks earlier – stood side by side on the 18th green on the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates holding aloft trophies at the end of another season on the DP World Tour.
While Højgaard has now won three titles on the DP World Tour in as many years, this was unquestionably the most momentous. The 22-year-old described it as his “sweetest”.
After victories at the DS Automobiles Italian Open in 2021 and at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship last year, the Dane was now a Rolex Series winner for the first time.
This was reward for a lot of sacrifice and commitment since the start of the year.
“We talked about it early this year and this week, as well, I really wanted to get a win,” he said in his post-tournament press conference.
“To do that, we needed to put in a lot of work, and we put in a lot of work this year. I'm so proud of my team and everyone involved that did put in the work and I couldn't wish for better people to have around me.
“It feels amazing, closing out in style with family and friends.”
In emerging as the champion from a stellar field of the leading 50 players on the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex, featuring nine of his European Ryder Cup teammates, Højgaard produced a statement performance that will further credence in the belief he is destined for the very top of the game.
Five birdies in a row over the final six holes of Sunday’s final round saw him earn a two-shot victory over nearest challengers Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland and Matt Wallace.
In doing so, he collected the US$3million first prize and a further $1.2million from the Race to Dubai Bonus Pool for finishing second on the season-long rankings.
The only player to finish ahead of him? That was of course none other than the aforementioned World Number Two McIlroy who celebrated winning the Harry Vardon Trophy for a fifth time in his illustrious career.
As a result of his victory, Højgaard also rises to a career-high 50th on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Should he remain inside the Top 50 at the end of the year, he would be in line to play in all of golf’s biggest events next season, including a potential debut at the Masters Tournament in April.
In four of his last five starts on the DP World Tour, he has finished in the top five including a runner-up spot at the Nedbank Golf Challenge last week. Some going, that.
“I was hoping to make a run the last two weeks to get close to the top 50,” he said.
“So to finish out like this, it doesn't mean it's guaranteed, top 50 for next year, but this is the sweetest way to finish the year.
“I can't believe we finished on such a high note, and I’m definitely going to enjoy this.”
Earlier this month, Højgaard was confirmed to have won enough non-member FedExCup points to earn PGA TOUR status for next year which will further help his development as he plays on both sides of the Atlantic.
As the closing stages of a dramatic final round in Dubai played out, Nicolai’s twin brother Rasmus, who missed out on earning dual membership status by one place, was with him in the recorder’s area highlighting the special bond between the pair.
“Having him there shows character and it shows that deep down, he's a great guy and I absolutely love Ras,” he said.
“He's my best friend. So having him there [in that moment] was very special.
“I know how he's feeling, but he's going to bounce back.”
Victory capped a memorable year for Nicolai that saw him make his Ryder Cup debut as the youngest member of Team Europe’s winning side in Rome.
Luke Donald was an interested observer of what his Captain’s Pick produced on the biggest of stages on the DP World Tour.
“What a finish from Nico in one of Europe’s strongest fields against some of the very best players in the world - the future of European golf looks bright,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Well that was a lot of fun for me watching this morning, didn’t really know who to pull for. What a finish from Nico in one of Europe’s strongest fields against some of the very best players in the world - the future of European golf looks bright @DPWorldTour— Luke Donald (@LukeDonald) November 19, 2023
Like for many of Europe’s best that is Nicolai’s year at an end.
As he prepares to head towards the holiday season, he can do so with great optimism about what is ahead in the new year when it would come as no surprise to see him lifting silverware once again.