FITZ RIGHT AT HOME
It seems dreams really do come true in the Fitzpatrick family, after US Open champion Matt backed up his PGA credentials and nailed down his spot in the world’s top 10, with a nailbiting win at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town.
Possibly the shot of the week – or even the year so far – on the third extra hole, finally dashed Jordan Spieth’s hope of backing up his 2022 victory, the Sheffield man hitting a 9-iron stone dead to a few inches.
It came after the American three-time Major winner had agonisingly lipped out on the previous green. It earned Fitzpatrick the $3.6m winner’s prize – just shy of £3m – in one of the PGA Tour’s new cash-boosted programme, with a $20m total purse.
The win ended a lean spell since Fitz lifted the US Open at Brookline last year, the course where he’d announced his arrival as a superstar-to-be in winning the US Amateur in 2013.
He’d only had two top-10s since, but crucially one of them was the previous week at The Masters, 130-miles away from Harbour Town in South Carolina.
And there really was a sense of ‘home from home’ for the Fitzpatricks, at the Hilton Head resort where the family used to holiday since Matt was aged six and little brother Alex was a babe in arms. The Hallamshire member became the first Englishman to win the tournament since Nick Faldo in 1984.
He had raced up the leaderboard on ‘moving day’ with a Saturday round of 63 to take a two-stroke lead into the final round.
But on Sunday Spieth was hot out of the blocks on the front nine to earn himself a 2-shot lead at the turn, over Fitzpatrick and third group member Patrick Cantlay, who himself briefly hit the top of the pile.
Spieth had made four birdies in the opening six holes but he missed a short putt for bogey on the par-three 14th and left the door open, Fitzpatrick then making birdies on 15 and 16 to grab a share of the lead.
The Sheffield man then missed two makeable birdie putts, but could still have won in regulation had Spieth not sunk a nervy seven-footer to force the playoff.
Playing the 18th again, then the par-3 17th, it was Spieth who had the golden chances, but couldn’t capitalise. Back down 18, Fitzpatrick’s 3-wood left him a perfect yardage for his 9-iron and he delivered, just inches from holing out.
“It’s hard to describe,” the 28-year-old said afterwards. “I said to (caddie) Billy (Foster), it doesn’t get better than this – walking down here, just looking around. It’s a course I dreamed of playing when I was young.
“I managed to play a couple of times with my dad and yes, this one means more than anything. Of every single one on the calendar, this is the one that I would want to win the most.”
“I feel like I have been very lucky in my career – I have won a major and now this. This is very special.
“It was a really good round. I got off to a dream start and then just kind of hung in there for a little while and then made a nice putt to get into the playoff, and then played the playoff really well,” said Spieth.
“Someone was going to make a birdie. It wasn’t going to be a bogey to lose that playoff the way that we were both playing today.”
And just to cap a dream weekend for the new world no.8, his beloved Sheffield United thumped Cardiff City 4-1 to open up a 5-point gap in the race to automatic Premier League promotion, with a game in hand on their challengers.
They went on to seal their place at the top table with a 2-0 win over West Brom, with three games still to play.