DUBAI: Matt Wallace needed to shoot a bogey-free five-under par in tough conditions in the final round of Nedbank Challenge in South Africa last week just to get into the field for this week’s $10.5 million DP World Tour Championship.
On Saturday, he added another incredible chapter to his late surge, shooting a 12-under par 60 — the lowest round in the history of the tournament — to sensationally move to the top of the leaderboard.
The 33-year-old Englishman now has a chance to win the $3 million first prize, even though his 60 will not count as an official record because preferred lies was in play after Friday’s heavy rains in Dubai.
The leader was being chased by two of Europe’s biggest stars. England’s world No. 15 Tommy Fleetwood, who now lives and practices in Jumeirah Golf Estates, and Norway’s world No. 4 Viktor Hovland, were just one behind at 15-under par. Both shot rounds of 66.
Wallace, winner of this year’s Corales Puntacana Championship on the PGA Tour, was seething after missing a short birdie putt on the seventh hole, but he channeled it in the best possible manner.
After a birdie on the eighth hole and a par on the ninth, he made the turn at three-under, before going on his birdie blitz.
On the par-4 10th hole, the world No. 87 made a long 30-footer for birdie, and never took his foot off the accelerator after that. He had a chance to shoot a rare 59, but his second shot on the par-5 18th hole went just right into the greenside bunker and he could only salvage a birdie from there. An eagle would have given him only the second 59 on the DP World Tour after Oliver Fisher’s in the 2019 Portugal Masters.
Wallace said the thought of a possible 59 never entered his head, and that he realized how close he was to making history when playing partner, Dan Bradbury, reminded him after the penultimate bunker shot.
“Kind of gutted now. It was a great opportunity to do it. I’ve done it at Moorpark on the West Course, which is only a par 68, but to do it out there would have been really special,” said Wallace. “And then I was told that someone has already made nine successive birdies (Bernd Wiesberger in the 2017 Maybank Championship). Well, I have a chance to make one on the first hole tomorrow and make it 10-in-a-row.”
Bradbury, who shot a 68 and was four-under par on the back nine, said shaking his head: “I shot a four-under, but it felt like a five-over! Incredible round by Matt. When they say ‘did not miss a shot,’ his back nine was just that.”
Wallace said it was fantastic that he now had a chance to win the tournament, for which he was in doubt of qualifying earlier in the year as he focused on playing on the PGA Tour in the US.
“Not to make any bogeys in the last two rounds is nice. I’m playing solid. I felt like my game was right there. And this proved that. I played in the Czech Republic (in August) and I was just kind of playing to keep my card on the DP World Tour as I played mostly on the PGA Tour this year. So, once I came second there, it kind of boosted me and then I wanted to make it to the DP World and now I’m here and we’ve got a chance to win tomorrow, which is fabulous.
“Money doesn’t drive me. It inspires me a little bit, but the bigger the tournament, I want to compete in them against the best players. I am happy we’re doing that this week.”
Both Fleetwood and Hovland have a point to prove in Sunday’s final round. World No. 15 Fleetwood has not won any title this year despite his consistent displays. And Hovland could become only the second player after Henrik Stenson in 2013 to win the Tour Championships on both sides of the Atlantic.
Fleetwood said: “It would be great. I’m very happy that I get to the final day of the year and I’m still playing well, still feeling fresh, still motivated and in contention. I take a lot of pleasure out of that.”
On the possibility of a Tour Championship double, Hovland said: “It would be cool. It’s been a crazy year. This is another big one and would be really nice to have it on the resume.”
Denmark’s Jeff Winther, assisted by two eagles on the back nine, moved into solo fourth place at 14-under after a round of 64.
Defending champion and world No. 3 Jon Rahm moved to tied ninth place with a bogey-free 67, while world No. 2 Rory McIlroy finally came into his own with a 65 that elevated him to tied 19th place.