Last updated on November 19th, 2023 at 03:33 PM
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.
The Dane 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.
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.
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.
The 22-year-old 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.
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.
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.
McIlroy won the 2023 Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex with a week to spare in a season that saw him win two Rolex Series events, secure three top tens in Major Championships and miss just one cut on the DP World Tour.
Claiming his fifth Harry Vardon trophy to add to his victories in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2022, the Northern Irishman is now third on the all-time list, just one short of the late, great Seve Ballesteros and three behind the record of Colin Montgomerie.
The 34-year-old insists he has no intention of slowing down as he looks to add to his five Rankings titles, 16 DP World Tour wins and four Major Championships.
McIlroy’s January victory at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic was his first Rolex Series win since the blue riband events started in 2017 and he followed it up with a win in his next Rolex Series start at the Genesis Scottish Open.
Japan’s Ryo Hisatsune is the last of ten players not otherwise exempt to earn PGA TOUR cards for the 2024 season, becoming dual members following the conclusion of the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex.
Nicolai Højgaard: It means a lot, it’s the sweetest one. 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.
I didn’t really think about what kind of tournament or what size or anything else. All week we focused, and to be sitting here now, we talked about it early this year and this week, as well, really wanted to get a win.
And to do that, we needed to put in a lot of work, and we put in a lot of work this year. I’m so proud of my team and everyone involved that did put in the work and I couldn’t wish for better people to have around me. It feels amazing, closing out in style with family and friends.
Rory McIlroy: I’ve still got a little bit left in the tank. I think I’ve still got a good eight to ten years left in me where I can play at the top, top level.
I’d like to think that I’m going to challenge, at least try to get past Seve and then sort of try to get past Monty as well. But it’s certainly a goal of mine for the rest of my career to do something like that. It would mean a lot to me.
I think it shows my consistency year-to-year. I think over the last ten years, I think I’ve won eight season-long titles between America and between here, so it just shows my level of consistency.
I said to Harry (Diamond, caddie) on the last green, there’s a few guys that are able to beat me sort of one week or the next week but I don’t think there’s a lot of people that can beat me throughout the entire season.
It’s just about trying to be a little more clinical when I get to those weeks where I have chances to win.
Overall, it’s been another really solid year. Stroke average has been great and I’ve played really good golf, really consistent. Hopefully more of the same going into next year and beyond.
When I won my first in Dubai at the start of the year, Harry said to me: ‘It took you long enough’, because every time we would go out and play with someone, the caddies would have a gold bib and he wouldn’t,” said McIlroy. “He was like: ‘When am I going to get a gold bib?’.
So it was nice to finally win one of those in Dubai and follow it up in Scotland, which is probably one of the best finishes I’ve ever had in a golf tournament. That was an unbelievable finish those last two holes.
It was great to do that and obviously those tournaments combined with my good play in the Majors and the World Match Play sort of got me to a point where it made these last few weeks a little more comfortable.