Nobody could have predicted that Matthew Fitzpatrick would win the British Open at Royal Birkdale just a few months ago. Now, the 23-year-old Englishman is in the driver’s seat at the British Masters, with a chance to become the youngest player to win three times on the European Tour since Rory McIlroy in 2007.
Fitzpatrick has reaped rewards for an unspectacular season on the PGA Tour, alternating between the FedEx Cup playoffs and the highest level of golf. He has held at least a share of the first-round lead in three of the eight tournaments he has played since that impressive showing at the British Open.
“I can’t quite believe it,” Fitzpatrick said. “I would never have guessed at the start of the year, just now I am playing so well, it’s unbelievable.”
Fitzpatrick would have been forgiven for worrying when he missed the cut on the second day of the FedEx Cup playoffs at this year’s Barclays in New Jersey, but he bounced back to lead all players the rest of the way.
In this most recent event, Fitzpatrick has two rounds under par and is tied for second place at 12 under. He was the first player to reach 11 under when he birdied the 18th hole on Thursday, when he finished the second round. By the end of the round on Friday, he had stretched his lead to a stroke.
Fitzpatrick said he was undecided about which prize would be more meaningful — breaking the European Tour’s 72-hole scoring record or joining McIlroy as a three-time winner of the British Masters, which is being played at The Grove, a member-owned course near London.
The British Open victory will get recognized, since it is the last step before qualifying for the Masters and the British Open. However, McIlroy has now added three British Masters wins to his career resume, while Michael Campbell has won twice in that event, and Jean Van de Velde famously blew a four-shot lead with two holes to play at the British Open at Carnoustie in 1999.
Fitzpatrick, who has won two tournaments on the European Tour this year and three tournaments on the PGA Tour since the start of the European Tour season, said he hopes to add to the accomplishments of McIlroy and a few other players in the next few years. “I’m trying to add to that,” he said. “I am not a guy who is in a rush to win three Majors. I want to earn the right to win them and then do it. But the longer I’m around the game and the more I see success, the more I believe in myself. So yeah, there is a drive to see myself do better.”
He added: “But hopefully I can add to that as a player as well.”
The British Masters, one of the European Tour’s oldest events, began in 1957. It is played at The Grove, a member-owned course near London.