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Fleetwood back in form ahead of Wentworth return

October 7, 2020 GMT
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Tommy Fleetwood, left, on the preview day for the PGA Championship at Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, England, Wednesday Oct. 7, 2020. (Adam Davy/PA via AP)
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Tommy Fleetwood, left, on the preview day for the PGA Championship at Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, England, Wednesday Oct. 7, 2020. (Adam Davy/PA via AP)

However bad Tommy Fleetwood felt after losing a playoff at the Scottish Open last week, it’s nothing compared to what the English golfer went through at another big event on the European Tour four years ago.

Fleetwood was on the first tee in the eve-of-tournament pro-am at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in 2016 and sprayed the ball into trouble 12 or 13 times. He got so down that he ended up walking the first hole with his playing partners, and discussed with his coach that night whether to withdraw.

“I was in a pretty dark place,” Fleetwood recalled Wednesday about a tough time in his career when he said he had the “driving yips.”

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Fleetwood has used that episode as a reference point whenever he has a dip in form — “It’s a nice reminder to think how far I’ve come along since then,” he said — and returns to Wentworth for this year’s flagship event on the tour ranked No. 14 but without a win worldwide in nearly a year.

Not that he’s too concerned.

OK, so three-putting from 20 feet for bogey on the first playoff hole to lose to Aaron Rai at the Scottish Open on Sunday smarted. Fleetwood’s mood quickly improved on the drive south back to England, though, as he listened on the radio to Liverpool — the fierce rival of his favorite soccer team, Everton — lose a Premier League match 7-2 to Aston Villa.

“Aston Villa put an end to the sulking quite rapidly,” he said, laughing.

And some words of encouragement from Justin Rose’s caddie, Gareth Lord, on Monday helped Fleetwood put things into perspective.

″‘Got to be here to (mess) it up,’ so I thought that was a good way of putting it,” Fleetwood said.

A third-place finish at the Portugal Masters last month and the runner-up spot in Scotland is a sign of better things to come for Fleetwood, who hadn’t previously had a top-25 finish at an event since the resumption of golf after the coronavirus outbreak.

It also puts him in a decent position in the Race to Dubai standings, at No. 3 and within striking distance of leader Patrick Reed with five more events remaining before the DP World Tour Championship, which will be the last event of a pandemic-affected season on the European Tour.

Wentworth, which will be without spectators because of coronavirus restrictions, is playing soft and therefore very long this week because of heavy rain in England in recent days. That will suit Fleetwood, who is long driver of the ball, as he goes for his first win at an event that typically is played in May, when conditions are more likely to be drier.

Reed is in the field, too, and the only member of the top 10 playing this week.

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80