Nicolai Højgaard won his first Rolex Series title as a back-nine birdie barrage saw him sign for a closing 64 and a two-shot victory at the DP World Tour Championship.
While even before the first tee shot had been hit, Rory McIlroy had sewn up the 2023 Race to Dubai with a week to spare in a season that has seen him win two Rolex Series events, secure three top tens in Major Championships and miss just one cut on the DP World Tour.
Højgaard had led after days one and two at Jumeirah Golf Estates but entered the final round three shots off the pace before pulling himself right into contention with a front nine of 33.
He was back on top with a gain on the tenth and then reeled off five birdies in a row from the 13th to get to 21 under and hold off the challenge of his Ryder Cup team-mates Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland and overnight leader Matt Wallace.
Fleetwood and Hovland signed for a pair of 68s, one shot less than Wallace, to sit two ahead of defending champion Jon Rahm, South Africa’s Thriston Lawrence and Frenchman Matthieu Pavon.
Højgaard finished fourth over the Earth Course in his only previous appearance at this event in 2021, catapulting himself into the top ten on that season’s final Rankings and he will finish 2023 second behind Race to Dubai champion Rory McIlroy.
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) November 19, 2023
While becoming an international player and starting his career on the PGA TOUR this year, he recorded seven DP World Tour top tens to earn his place in Europe’s Ryder Cup team, winning half a point as Luke Donald’s men defeated the United States.
He added to that tally by finishing second at last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge and brought that form to Dubai, where he is now a three-time DP World Tour champion and enters the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time.
“It means a lot, it’s the sweetest one,” he said.
“So much hard work has been put in over the past couple of years – it feels amazing, this is for family and everything they put in over the years. So much hard work going into this, for it to happen like this is unbelievable.
“We know there are a lot of birdies but we have to hit the shots and hole the putts, anything can happen we were just focused on the job today, to walk up 18 knowing there’s a good chance feels good.
“I played some really good golf. I have to say this is the best golf I’ve played in a tournament and the strongest field in my three wins. My game feels good, I felt good before going out and to finish it like this feels good.
“This is the sweetest way to finish the year, I cant believe we finished on such a high note, I’m definitely going to enjoy this.”
England’s Fleetwood joined the lead from ten feet at the first and it was soon a three-way tie as Hovland got up and down from the sand on the par-five second.
A monster 40-foot eagle putt on the same hole handed Fleetwood a two-shot lead but he bogeyed the fourth after finding sand off the tee and soon had company at 17 under.
Wallace made a 40-footer of his own on the sixth and ahead at the par-five seventh Hovland made a two-putt birdie before hitting the front on his own from five feet on the eighth.
The Norwegian failed to find the green in two at the next and the resulting bogey left the door open for Højgaard to join the lead.
The 22-year-old had made a two-putt gain on the fourth, holed a long putt at the fifth and hit a beautiful tee-shot into the next before putting an approach to five feet at the tenth.
Fleetwood found another gear after the turn, however, putting a pitch inside five feet on the tenth and a brilliant second to two feet at the next to move two ahead.
Højgaard had dropped a shot on the 12th but he put his tee-shot at the par-three 13th inside ten feet and then found the green at the par-five 14th in two to trim the gap to one.
Hovland also took advantage of the 14th with two putts but Højgaard was relentless, pitching from the first cut to seven feet for three birdies in a row and a share of the lead.
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) November 19, 2023
Another beautiful approach to four feet at the 16th edged him ahead but Fleetwood holed a brilliant, curling 15-foot right-to-lefter on the 15th, only to see Højgaard make a fifth birdie in a row on the 17th after a tee-shot to four feet.
He missed a chance from four feet for six in a row but a Fleetwood three-putt on the 17th meant the he, Wallace and Hovland needed eagles up the last to force a play-off, a feat none of them could achieve.
Hovland added a further birdie at the 16th before parring the last after finding water, while Englishman Wallace had dropped a shot on the seventh and reeled off six pars in a row before birdies at the 14th, 15th and 17th sent him back up the leaderboard.
Spaniard Rahm and Lawrence both carded rounds of 66, with Pavon signing for a 67 to sit at 17 under, one shot clear of another Frenchman in Victor Perez and two ahead of Scot Ewen Ferguson and Dane Jeff Winther.
Image: David Cannon