By Larry Fine
ERIN, Wisconsin (Reuters) – The shackles are off England’s Tommy Fleetwood, riding the momentum of an early season win at Abu Dhabi to contend at the U.S. Open, said former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley.
Fleetwood had missed six of seven cuts in his major championship resume, finishing tied for 27th at the 2015 U.S. Open for his best result before this year’s Open.
But the long-hitting 26-year-old from Southport outside Liverpool is firing on all cylinders at links-styled Erin Hills and stands one shot from the lead as Sunday’s final round began.
“Tommy’s got momentum this year. The big catalyst has been the win that he had at Abu Dhabi at the start of the year,” McGinley told Reuters before Fleetwood’s final-round tee time.
“It’s always great to win early in a season because it sets you up for the year. It’s almost like ‘Well, whatever I do for the rest of the year, it’s going to be a good year.’
“That takes the shackles off and then you kind of go, and that’s what he’s done.”
The victory was his second on the European Tour following his maiden title in a playoff at the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
“Then he went on to (WGC) Mexico and holed that monster putt from about 80 feet on the last green, which took him into second on his own, won him a check of nearly a million dollars and propelled him right up the Order of Merit and world rankings.
“And he’s carried on from there,” said Ireland’s McGinley, captain of the victorious 2014 European Ryder Cup team.
Fleetwood has posted three successive subpar rounds at Erin Hills, opening with a five-under 67 and following with a 70 and 68 to be in prime position to battle for his first major title.
McGinley said he likes the makeup of the promising player.
“He hits the ball a long way, he’s gritty, he’s tenacious,” said McGinley. “He’s got a big heart and very much the modern player.
“He’s very strong, goes to the gym a lot, works hard, very conscientious. He’s quiet, unassuming, respectful. A really nice guy. Well brought up, good parents.
“A really nice, respectful, good boy.”
(Editing by Gene Cherry)