A back-nine birdie bonanza propelled Nicolai Højgaard past a number of heavy hitters and into the winner's circle at the 2023 DP World Tour Championship. The Dane's final-round 8-under 64 featured five straight birdies from Nos. 13-17, and was enough for him to reach 21 under, two clear of Ryder Cup teammates Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland as well as overnight leader Matt Wallace.
"It means a lot, it's the sweetest one," said Højgaard. "So much hard work has been put in over the past couple of years -- it feels amazing. This is for family and everything they put in over the years. So much hard work going into this, for it to happen like this is unbelievable.
"We know there are a lot of birdies, but we have to hit the shots and hole the putts, anything can happen, we were just focused on the job today, to walk up 18 knowing there's a good chance feels good. I played some really good golf. I have to say this is the best golf I've played in a tournament and the strongest field in my three wins. My game feels good, I felt good before going out, and to finish it like this feels good. This is the sweetest way to finish the year. I cant believe we finished on such a high note. I'm definitely going to enjoy this."
Højgaard's victory marks his third on the DP World Tour and his first in a Rolex Series event. He finishes the season-long Race to Dubai in second place behind Rory McIlroy, who had wrapped up his fifth European crown at the onset of the week thanks to his season-long performance. The 22-year-old is also projected to climb inside the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career. Should his position in the world rankings persist until the end of the calendar year, Højgaard will earn his first invitation into the Masters as well.
In the early stages of the final round, it was not Højgaard but rather Fleetwood who emerged as the man to beat. Converting a 40-foot eagle bid on the par-5 2nd, the Englishman surged ahead by two. Despite some jostling on the leaderboard, Fleetwood's lead remained two after back-to-back birdies on Nos. 10-11.
Only then did Højgaard begin to pester. After dropping a shot on the 12th, Højgaard rattled off five straight birdies to pull one clear of Fleetwood ahead of the par-5 finisher. Missing a 4-foot birdie opportunity on the last, Højgaard sunk his face into his cap knowing he left the door ajar.
Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for Fleetwood, his closest pursuer was unable to walk through. A three-putt bogey on the 17th for the second consecutive day meant Fleetwood was in need of an eagle on the last to force a playoff. After missing the fairway and being forced to lay up, Fleetwood's chance was gone and gave way for the Højgaard family to begin their celebrations.
While Nicolai finished atop the leaderboard, twin brother Rasmus finished one spot outside the top 10 players who earned PGA Tour membership based on their Race to Dubai standing. Adrian Meronk, Ryan Fox, Thorbjørn Olesen, Alexander Bjork, Sami Valimaki, Robert MacIntyre, Matthieu Pavon, Jorge Campillo and Ryo Hisatsune make up those who will make the leap from Europe to the PGA Tour in 2024.