From Day 1—when his opening 61 (11 birdies, seven pars) over the “Fire” course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates shot him to the top of the leader board—until the final nine holes, the Golf in Dubai Championship had been Andy Sullivan’s version of “catch me if you can.” Leader at the end of the first, second and third rounds, the former Ryder Cup player was still looking down on the rest with six holes to play in the round that really counts.
But that was as good as things got for Sullivan. When the Englishman’s 25th birdie of the week at the 621-yard par-5 13th took him to 24 under par, it was good enough only to maintain parity with Antoine Rozner, who had started the day four shots back. The Frenchman’s eagle at the same hole had briefly placed his name above that of the long-time leader.
It was a sign of things to come. By the end of play, three other men—Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Francesco Laporta and Matt Wallace—had caught the struggling Sullivan in what was eventually a four-way share of second place.
Which left Rozner. The 27-year-old Parisian had quietly assembled an impressive record during his rookie season on the European Tour. A playoff loss to Rasmus Hojgaard in Mauritius was just one of five previous top-10 finishes for the two-time champion on last year’s Challenge Tour, where he eventually finished eighth on the money list. And in becoming the 14th first-time winner on the 2019-’20 European Tour season, Rozner displayed even more signs of his blossoming talent. Seven birdies and an eagle dotted his closing-round 64, the only blemish a dropped shot at the par-4 15th. His 25-under-par 263 aggregate was two shots clear of the quartet in second place.
“I knew my game was there, although I wasn’t sure it was this good,” said Rozner, who with the win is now in the field at next week’s DP World Tour Championship, which will be held next door on the Jumeirah Estates’ “Earth” course. “I didn’t make it into any of the Rolex events this year, so to play in the biggest event on the European Tour is a big thing for me.”
The highlights of Rozner’s breakthrough round both came at par 5s (he played all four in five under par) during his back-nine 31. The first, a 239-yard 5-iron that found the distant 13th green led to an eagle. The second, struck with a 3-iron on the 18th hole that was new to his bag this week, flew to within 16 feet of the flag from 256 yards out, leading to a final birdie. “I was a bit pumped up,” said the soon-to-be champion with a smile.
All of which was achieved in blissful ignorance. Only when he arrived on the 72nd green did Rozner, a former University of Missouri student, permit himself a glance at a leader board.
“This means so much,” Rozner said. “I don’t really know how to explain my feelings right now. I was close to winning twice this year, in Mauritius and Valderrama. So it is great to get this done in such a nice fashion. I knew I had to take it super-deep if I was to win. So to do just that is amazing. And yes, I have to be honest, the first time I saw I was in the lead was on the 18th green. I had no idea what was going on. I told my caddie that was a good thing. We just kept trying to play the way we had been playing. The key was I stayed aggressive and that paid off.”
Indeed. Fast finishes have always tended to be more productive than speedy starts. Just ask Andy Sullivan.