VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) — Ryan Fox overcame a three-shot deficit and a triple bogey early in the final round Sunday with six birdies on the back nine — the last one from 6 feet on the 18th hole — for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot victory over Aaron Rai and Tyrrell Hatton in the BMW PGA Championship.
Fox started shaking his right fist as the final birdie putt was inches from going in, the final stroke of a masterpiece over his last 15 holes that carried the Kiwi to his fourth European tour title, and by the far the biggest of his career.
“I played great,” Fox said. “Pretty much didn’t miss a shot from the third hole onwards and saw a couple of putts go in and it was pretty cool feeling on the last to know I had one to win and actually make it.”
Ludvig Aberg, the Swedish rookie, never recovered from an atrocious start of his own. Aberg, going for his second straight win, started with a two-shot lead and it was long gone by the time he made the turn.
Aberg took two double bogeys on the front nine with poor chips and missed putt. He missed five putts from inside 6 feet. He closed with a 76 and tied for 10th.
That turned the back nine at Wentworth into a free-for-all among four players chasing the flagship event on the European tour in the rain and a one-hour delay from lightning in the area.
Hatton opened with five birdies in seven holes and had the lead until a tee shot that sailed out-of-bounds on the 15th hole, and he did well to escape with bogey. Hatton birdied the 18th for a 66 to momentarily tie Fox for the lead.
Rai boldly hit the par-5 18th green with a fairway metal, and his 40-foot eagle putt to take the lead caught the left edge of the cup. He tapped in for birdie and a 68, joining Hatton in the lead. Jon Rahm needed eagle on the 18th, and his 20-foot putt narrowly missed. He had a 68 and wound up two shots behind.
That set the stage for Fox, who chose to lay up on the 18th not trusting his lie in moderate rough with water in front of the green. His wedge spun back to 6 feet and made the winner.
None of this seemed possible to Fox when he drove out-of-bounds on No. 3, went into a bunker and took triple bogey. At the time, he was five shots out of the lead.
“I certainly didn’t think I’d be talking to you after the third hole,” Fox said to Sky Sports. “I don’t know what to think at the moment. I’ve always struggled around here. To have a back nine like that, especially with how I started the day, it’s amazing.
“I just tried to steady the ship and I played great.”
His longest birdie putt on the back nine was from 12 feet on No. 11. His most impressive was after the weather delay, when he hit out of the trees to 8 feet for birdie to take the lead for good. Fox finished on 18-under 270.
Hatton said he had mixed emotions, happy to have a great week heading into the Ryder Cup at Marco Simone but disappointed by not winning in front of a spirited English gallery that included his father. His drive out-of-bounds came during the heaviest rain.
It was an inspiring day for Europe as it relates to the Ryder Cup. All 12 players were at Wentworth and all 12 made the cut, including Captain Luke Donald.
At one point early Sunday, the leading six players were Ryder Cup members and nine of them were among the top 20. In the end, Viktor Hovland (67) finished fifth, followed by Tommy Fleetwood (72) and Rory McIlroy (65).
McIlroy had to make birdie on the final hole Friday in the dark to make the cut, and he wound up with another top 10.
“To shoot the scores I’ve done over the last two days, it’s been nice, and I saw some improvements from Thursday and Friday which has been great,” he said. “Now it’s just all about looking forward to Rome and getting the game in the best shape possible.”
Fox had not registered a top 10 in what he said has been a tough year. His second child was born 4 months ago, and his father-in-law died in June after a brief battle with cancer. He was third last week in the Irish Open and now has his first Rolex Series title.