Thrilled Fleetwood sets sights on defending European Tour crown

Andrew MARSZAL
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Tommy Fleetwood of England speaks with AFP ahead of the UBS Hong Kong Open tournament, at the Hong Kong Golf Club, on November 22, 2017

Tommy Fleetwood has expressed his delight that his newly won European Tour title will "be on my CV forever" -- but has already set his sights on defending his crown next year.

The long-haired Merseysider only sealed the tour's coveted Race to Dubai title last week, but he is straight back into action at the Hong Kong Open, which opens the new European Tour season.

It is a tournament he came within two strokes of winning last year, setting in motion a remarkable run that saw him gatecrash the world top 20 and ultimately pip Justin Rose to seal the order of merit title last week in Dubai.

"I'd love to go back-to-back Race to Dubais, and this would be a good week to start, wouldn't it?" said Fleetwood, 26.

Fleetwood, seen as one of the sport's most affable characters, is in no doubt the European Tour victory is his biggest achievement so far. Until 2017 he was a relative outsider, with just one Tour victory to his name.

"(Last season) I wanted to win a tournament again... get back to the top 50 in the world and stuff," he said.

"Every now and again over the last two or three days, I get five, 10 minutes to sit down... you start thinking about it."

"I think the biggest thing is that it's on my CV forever. It's an accomplishment that you'll always have and it's a big one to have in your career."

Among Fleetwood's rivals this week are Rose and Rafa Cabrera Bello, who finished runner-up in Hong Kong last year and also went on to enjoy a breakthrough season.

- 'You can't deny the Americans' -

"Tommy is a very, very well deserved champion," said the Spaniard. "For a player like me, seeing Tommy win -- who started the year outside the top 100 in the world -- it just proves the golf is still human. Anyone really can win."

Cabrera Bello added: "Justin is a lovely guy and I wish him all the success in the world, but in this case I was rooting for Tommy.

"Now it's a new year and I hope he lets other people win!"

In the longer term Fleetwood, is also eyeing bigger prizes -- including making his Ryder Cup debut next year in France.

The competition will be hosted at the same Paris course where he won the French Open this year, but despite Europe's home advantage the Americans are hotly tipped as favourites.

"They're all right! They're decent! You can't deny the Americans... I think they had almost the best team ever the last time out. We've got plenty of good players too," said Fleetwood.

"I feel like it is the biggest sporting occasion in the world and we get the chance to play in it every two years. I want to play multiple Ryder Cups in my career."

After his breakthrough year Fleetwood is also eligible to join the PGA Tour in the US -- home to three of golf's Majors -- but his priority remains closer to home.

"The (British) Open will always be the ultimate for me. I'm not saying it's my best chance, but The Open is the one, if I had to pick one.

"I'll take any, by the way! But if you wanted me to be really picky, I would have to say The Open."