Matt Fitzpatrick’s true potential reflected in Valderrama victory not his Ryder Cup record

Four weeks ago, Matt Fitzpatrick told The Yorkshire Post he did not yet feel he had fulfilled the potential many observers felt he had.

Winner: Matthew Fitzpatrick poses with the trophy after winning the Andalucia Masters. Picture: Getty Images

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Matt Fitzpatrick returns to Ryder Cup with much stronger winning mentality

“Until I start competing in the majors and really give myself a chance it will be tough for me,” said a young man who rose to the very top of the amateur game.

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“I’ve just got to keep working at it and hopefully fulfil this potential that everyone seems to think I’ve got.”

Then came the Ryder Cup, and that humbling defeat by a rampant United States team at Whistling Straits, when Fitzpatrick could do little to alter the red tide, losing all three of his matches.

But in an acid test of his character these past few days, Fitzpatrick bounced back with typical class to card a bogey-free final round of 69 on Sunday to win the Estrella Damm Andalucia Masters on the European Tour. It was his seventh victory on tour, but as much as the manner in which he did it was important, so was the venue – Valderrama, scene of a famous Ryder Cup battle 24 years ago and one of the toughest courses on the circuit.

Fitzpatrick’s winning score of six-under-par after 72 holes told the story of a grind.

Valderrama invariably delivers great champions.

“It’s a true test and you have to be patient the whole 72 holes,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’m really pleased with the way my attitude was all week.”

It bodes well for his state of mind and the strength of his game post-Ryder Cup, and also again points to a player who can craft his way around the most difficult of golf courses.

It may not satisfy the Sheffield professional completely or lead those observers to opine that his potential has been fulfilled, but at 27 it should further underline that Fitzpatrick’s career remains firmly on an upward trajectory, no matter how one week in a team event portrays him.

Another statistic to underline that some of that potential has been met is that just three Englishmen had won as many European Tour titles by the age of 27 as he has: Nick Faldo, Lee Westwood and Peter Oosterhuis.

Not bady company to keep, particularly the former.

The win moves Fitzpatrick up to 25th in the world rankings, the second highest Englishman on the list.

Rory McIlroy also put his Ryder Cup pain behind him to join a select band of players with 20 PGA victories with a one-stroke win in the CJ Cup in Las Vegas.

Starting the day two shots behind leader Rickie Fowler, the former world No 1, whose ranking has slipped to 14th during a troubled 2021, carded a six-under 66 to end on 25-under par for his second victory of 2021.

McIlroy mixed four birdies around his first bogey since Thursday on the front nine, gained another stroke on the 12th before setting up the win by sinking a 34-foot putt from off the green for an eagle three on the 14th.

A composed approach shot on the last meant he could two-putt from 13 feet for a closing par to secure victory ahead of American Collin Morikawa, who scorched up the leaderboard to put pressure on the Northern Irishman with a career-best 10-under 62.

Fowler (71) and fellow American Keith Mitchell (67) were two further shots back in equal-third.

“To get to 20 wins here is a big achievement,” said McIlroy, the 39th player to achieve the feat. “I didn’t know if it was going to be this week, but I knew if I just kept my head down and kept playing well and kept doing the right things that eventually I’d get there. To get a win, it’s great, it feels really good.”

McIlroy, who made his best score since 2019 with his third round 62, was playing for the first time since his disappointing performance in Europe’s Ryder Cup defeat in Wisconsin last month – a week which left the 32-year-old in tears in his closing interview – and said the experience had helped turn him around.

“It was huge. It really was. I was really disappointed with how I played. There was a lot of reflection in the last couple of weeks. This is what I need to do. I need to play golf, I need to simplify it. I need to just be me.”