Tommy Fleetwood is comfortable contending at the majors
A second-round, six-under 64 has the Englishman aiming for his first victory in America
Tommy Fleetwood knows what it’s like to deliver something special in a major championship.
He knows what it’s like to flirt with something historic in a major.
He just doesn’t know what it’s like to win one yet.
Fleetwood moved into position to change that at the PGA Championship this weekend.
With a 6-under-par 64 Friday at TPC Harding Park, the 29-year-old Englishman stylishly worked his way in contention. He made seven birdies and a single bogey playing in a cardigan, finishing up the morning wave at 6 under overall, two shots behind the leader, Haotong Li (65).
Fleetwood’s major championship resume only lacks a victory.
He had an 8-foot birdie chance to shoot 62 at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills two years ago but watched the putt slide by, settling for a 63 that equaled Johnny Miller’s record for the best score in the final round of that championship. He finished second to Brooks Koepka that week, one shot short of forcing a playoff.
Fleetwood also finished second to Shane Lowry at The Open last year.
He was fourth at the U.S. Open three years ago.
Fleetwood is looking more and more like a guy destined to win one of the game’s greatest prizes.
“Majors are the toughest tests in general,” Fleetwood said. “When you're playing against the best players in the world and on the hardest golf courses, hopefully, it's going to bring the best out of you.
“But it tests every single aspect of your game mentally and physically, and I've always enjoyed that.”
Fleetwood is looking to make the most of lessons learned in a run at the Wanamaker Trophy.
“I've played with quite a few of the winners of the last few majors, and it's always good to see what they do,” Fleetwood said. “You're obviously concentrating on your own game, but you see how the events pan out, and you see how the guys go and win those events. That, in your mind, can only do you good, I guess, because you've watched it and seen it.”
Fleetwood, a five-time European Tour winner, played in the final Sunday pairing alongside Shane Lowry when Lowry won The Open at Royal Portrush last year. He also played with Koepka in the final round when Koepka won the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in 2017.
“Any time you're in contention, it's just experience,” Fleetwood said. “You learn things about yourself and how those events unfold.
“Experience, you can't buy it, and I've been lucky enough to have some of that, and hopefully it stands me in good stead moving forward.”
Fleetwood is also bidding to win his first PGA Tour event, to win on American soil for the first time, the importance of which became a hot-button topic earlier this spring, when Fleetwood came so close to breaking through at the Honda Classic. He took a one-shot lead into the final round but found himself needing birdie at the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Sungjae Im. Fleetwood went for the par 5 18th in two, rinsing his 5-wood to leave himself in solo third.
“You’re trying to prove to everybody that you’ve got what it takes,” NBC analyst and former Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger said as he set up the dramatic finish and what was at stake for Fleetwood. “These guys know, you can win all you want on that European Tour or in the international game and all that, but you have to win on the PGA Tour.”
European players didn’t like the characterization, with a number of Fleetwood’s Ryder Cup teammates rushing to Fleetwood’s defense in the aftermath. Euro captain Padraig Harrington and former captain Thomas Born joined Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood in challenging Azinger’s premise.
“Bad grammar,” Azinger later explained, saying his choice of words made what he intended sounder harsher than he wanted.
At No. 13 in this week’s world rankings, Fleetwood is the highest ranked player in the world who hasn’t won a PGA Tour event.
With 36 holes to go this weekend, Fleetwood is focused on the challenge TPC Harding Park promises to keep presenting.
“Today, I think I drove it really well, put it in the fairway around here and it makes a massive, massive difference,” Fleetwood said. “Really didn’t give many shots away.”
Fleetwood hit 12 of 14 fairways. He got up and down five of the six times he missed greens.
“Today felt good, Fleetwood said. “Felt like I worked my way into the round well and then gained momentum and then kept it going.”
He’ll be looking to keep that momentum going through Sunday and another chance at hoisting a major championship trophy.