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Fowler blazes to Heros victory


Rickie Fowler was the clear standout figure in Sunday's final round of the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

On a day when no one else in the elite, 18-man invitational field could better even Tommy Fleetwood's next best final-round score of 67, Fowler's stunning 11-under 61 and closing 18-under 270 total made absolutely sure of that.

Built on a spectacular blitz of seven straight birdies from the opening hole on the Ernie Els-designed course at the Albany Golf Club, it rocketed the World No 7 into the forefront of a closing round battle that would carry him to victory over Charlie Hoffman (72), the overnight leader, by all of four shots.

Fleetwood, England's newly crowned European Tour Champion, and World No 2 Jordan Spieth (69) were a further two shots back in joint third place, six off the pace.

It might be a good illustration of just how extraordinary was Fowler's record-breaking final round if it is pointed out that World No 1 Dustin Johnson, who finished 4th from the bottom on 288, was one of the 10 players in the field of 18 who failed to break 70.

Fowler was looking at a seven-stroke deficit when he teed off on Sunday but seven straight birdies and another at the ninth put him in front at the turn, which he made in a sizzling eight-under 28.

He added three more birdies on the back nine in his amazing, bogey-free round and said after his four-shot victory, "I knew I needed to get off to a quick start today to at least show (overnight leader) Charley (Hoffman) I was there. We took care of that and kept it rolling."

In the meantime, never completely out of the spotlight, Tiger Woods, making his return to top-level professional golf after spending almost a full season on the sidelines recovering from back surgery, was one of those who went under 70.

Finally pain free during all four rounds, the long-time former World No 1 who can boast of winning 79 US PGA titles including 14 majors, did close with two tired bogies, it is true, but his six impressive birdies and an eagle gave him a closing 68 that put him halfway up the field in a 9th-place tie with Matt Kuchar on 280.

It also left the message that yes, there is a good chance that he could once more become a competitive PGA Tour golfer, not at the phenomenal level he was at his peak in his 20s, but perhaps at a level where a victory here and there is not out of the question.

"I showed some good signs," the 41-year-old Woods told NBC Sports after closing with his eight-under 280. "I hit some really good shots out there (and am ready for) a bright future.... and no pain."

"I've had some tough times through the years with my back and then finally to come out on the good side and (be) able to get back out there and play. It's pretty cool," he said.

"When I was struggling with my back, the world seemed very small. Day to day stuff was very difficult for me to do," Woods said. "Now I am able to sit back and enjoy it a little bit more... It's been really nice."

Looking ahead he said: "I don't know what golf courses I will be playing, what's the best way to go about it (getting back into the majors etc.)..... We'll figure it out. Play enough, but not play too much," Woods said, cautioning himself and his team.

(Par 72)

270 Rickie Fowler (USA) 67 70 72 61
274 Charley Hoffman (USA) 69 63 70 72
276 Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 66 69 74 67; Jordan Spieth (USA) 68 67 72 69
277 Hideki Matsuyama (JAP) 71 66 72 68; Patrick Reed (USA) 72 66 71 68; Justin Rose (ENG) 68 68 71 70
278 Francesco Molinari (ITA) 69 68 71 70; Matt Kuchar (USA) 67 70 72 71
281 Justin Thomas (USA) 69 70 74 68
287 Kevin Kisner (USA) 70 72 75 70; Alex Noren (SWE) 73 69 74 71
288 Daniel Berger (USA) 75 73 70 70; Dustin Johnson (USA) 68 72 76 72; Kevin Chappell (USA) 68 70 74 76
289 Henrik Stenson (SWE) 70 71 77 71
291 Brooks Koepka (USA) 71 78 72 70.

Neville Leck

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