ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Tyrrell Hatton channelised his inner Hulk once again and pummeled a quality field at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship by a whopping margin of four shots for a fourth Rolex Series win and a fourth title in his past 20 starts.
There was a brief moment in his Sunday battle with Rory McIlroy when it looked like things were getting out of control. On the par-4 third hole, the 29-year-old Englishman tried to cut across the dogleg but found the fairway bunker at the bend. He still was calm when he walked and surveyed the scene.
The shot from the bunker was slightly fat and stayed short of the green, nestled in rough and leaving him with an awkward chip for a possible up-and-down. That’s when emotions boiled over. Even though the golf bag was hardly to be blamed for his malady, it got a mighty whack from the wedge in Hatton’s hand.
For the small group of onlookers (no spectators allowed as the European Tour continues to follow COVID-19 protocol at the start of the new season), this was getting interesting. Hatton has never shied from showing his emotions on the course and just a couple of days ago, the social media team of the European Tour released a video called Angry Golfers, featuring the man from Buckinghamshire in a starring role.
“I have to pinch myself with where we are in the world rankings now. I don’t sort of treat anything any differently. ... It’s crazy. It’s not something you think about. You’re just always trying your best."
And just like that, problems seemed to melt away for Hatton as soon as he got angry. The chip from the rough was exquisite and the resulting par did not let McIlroy run too far away.
It was a typical Hatton display after that – solid most of the time and gritty when needed. In between, there were magical shots that would take the wind out of his rivals’ sails. Like the tee shot on the par-3 seventh when he chased an impossible pin over water. He later told Sky’s on-course interviewer Tim Barter that he had blocked the shot slightly, but the result was a spectacular birdie from 4 feet.
In difficult, swirling wind, Hatton’s 66 was the lowest round of the day, matching the effort of Australian Jason Scrivener, who was on fire on the back nine with an eagle and five birdies to jump ahead of McIlroy into solo second place.
Hatton takes his Hulk act outside the golf course too. This time as Dr Bruce Banner, though. The man who expects the world from his golf game won’t even acknowledge how good a golfer he has become, repeatedly calling himself “lucky.”
After becoming the highest-ranked British golfer by climbing to world No. 5 and getting past McIlroy, Hatton said he was having trouble believing it all.
Speaking exclusively to Global Golf Post after the win, he said: “I have to pinch myself with where we are in the world rankings now. I don’t sort of treat anything any differently. I always go out there and try my best and I’ve been obviously quite fortunate to play well at such big events.
“It’s crazy. It’s not something you think about. You’re just always trying your best. I feel very fortunate. I dreamed of playing on the European Tour as a kid, and to win the tournaments I have so far is amazing.”
Hatton won’t even admit that becoming the world No 1 is a priority for him.
“To be honest, it’s never been a goal of mine,” Hatton added. “It’s not something that I sort of look at. I kind of just do my work with my dad and you play good golf, the world rankings kind of take care of itself and that’s all I’m focused on. It’s obviously a byproduct of how you play.
“While it’s very surreal to see where I am in the world rankings, I’m not kind of desperate to be No. 1. If I don’t get there, I’m absolutely fine with that.”
Hatton established his hold on the tournament with some incredible birdies from the seventh to 11th, while McIlroy made crucial mistakes in that stretch.
After the birdie on the seventh, Hatton got another on the par-4 ninth despite a howling left-to-right wind making the hole extremely tough. He then rolled in an unlikely 35-foot birdie putt on the 10th. McIlroy made a bogey on the par-5 eighth and added another from a terrible lie on the 11th after pushing his tee shot on both holes.
It was an eighth top-three finish in 11 appearances for McIlroy, and if he was disgusted with himself he hid it well.
“Well, Hatton was impressive,” said McIlroy, who will play in six of the next seven PGA Tour events. “I thought given the conditions, I needed to shoot a 68 to win, and even that would not have been good enough today.
“I thought for the most part of the week, my short game and my putting was good. I scrambled well. Had some pretty good approach shots. I thought there were parts of rounds where I got the driver going.
“But still, there are a few holes where it sort of gets away from me. So, what I need is a little more consistency and being able to replicate the good ones hole after hole and then day after day until you put four rounds together.”
Hatton will stay with the European Tour as it moves to Dubai next week for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.