Fleetwood returns to Birkdale as a champion

Tommy Fleetwood
Tommy Fleetwood
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Tommy Fleetwood will head into the Open Championship later this month in the form of his life after claiming a second victory of the season in the HNA Open de France.

Fleetwood carded a flawless final round of 66 at 2018 Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National to finish 12 under par, a shot ahead of overnight joint-leader Peter Uihlein.

The 26-year-old from Southport, who used to sneak on to the Open venue of Royal Birkdale as a kid, was a lowly 188th in the world last September, but will be a career-high 15th when the rankings are updated on Monday.

Olympic champion Justin Rose is now the only English player ranked higher than Fleetwood, who also moved above Masters champion Sergio Garcia to the top of the Race to Dubai.

Fleetwood has reaped the rewards of returning to his former coach Alan Thompson and followed his second European Tour victory in Abu Dhabi in January by finishing fourth in the US Open last month.

Fleetwood began the final round a shot off the lead but quickly wiped out his deficit after coming within a fraction of an inch of spinning his tee shot on the second back into the hole for an ace.

A two-putt birdie on the par-five third took Fleetwood into the lead and another on the ninth restored his advantage after Sweden’s Alexander Bjork recovered from a bogey on the first with birdies on the fifth and seventh.

Fleetwood then moved further ahead with birdies on the 13th and 14th and although Uihlein picked up shots on the same holes and piled on the pressure with a birdie on the 17th, the American could not hole a bunker shot on the 18th to force a play-off.

“I can’t believe how close he got,” added Fleetwood. “On 14 I tapped in and I was four clear and finishing with four pars round here I didn’t think I’d be scratching the win by a shot.”

He is scheduled to contest the Irish and Scottish Opens before heading home for the Open.

“It’s going to be a massive week for me,” he added.

“I’m going to be playing in front of crowds that I never have before and people that you have grown up with.”