For most of the week, and for most of the final round of the 2023 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, it appeared a member of the European Ryder Cup team would be victorious. Ludvig Aberg began Sunday with a two-stroke lead. Tommy Fleetwood was a member of the final group. Tyrrell Hatton and Jon Rahm fed off each other and made admirable charges. Rory McIlroy possessed the clubhouse lead only to give it to Viktor Hovland when the Norwegian finished.
Despite all this, it was Ryan Fox who won the DP World Tour's flagship event with a deciding birdie on the last to finish at 18 under and one clear of Aaron Rai and Hatton. The victory is the fourth of Fox's DP World Tour career and his most impressive to date as he becomes the first man from New Zealand to claim the title and the first to win a Rolex Series event.
"I never expected this, to be honest," Fox said. "It's not been a tournament that has treated me overly well in the past. I love coming here, I just have never played very well. I don't know what changed this year. It's pretty special to be standing here in front of everyone and to make a birdie on the last to win is what you dream of when you're growing up. It's pretty special."
Fending off a Murderers' Row and a Who's Who, Fox not only had to battle his peers and a weather delay but also some early adversity. Making a triple bogey on No. 3, Fox dropped to 10 under for the tournament and had all the makings of becoming an afterthought as the titans of the game began to surge.
Just as Hatton rolled in birdie after birdie and Rahm persisted, Fox found his groove. Eight birdies across his final 13 holes saw him kick it into high gear and zoom past a struggling final group that included Aberg and Fleetwood. Not even the rain would dampen Fox's heater as the birdies piled up on the back nine with none more surprising than his on the difficult 15th to grab the solo lead.
Pars on the next two set the stage for dramatics on the last. After Hatton made birdie in the group ahead to post 17 under and eliminate his Ryder Cup teammates and Rai found the putting surface in two, Fox stepped up to his third. Spinning his approach into the par 5 to 6 feet, the 36-year-old would go on to convert and let out a yell for those in his native New Zealand to hear.
"I've been hitting my wedges pretty good all week," Fox said. "I laid up to a really good number there on 18, and I hit some really good shots down the stretch as well to be able to lean on a little bit. It's pretty nerve-racking coming down the stretch of this golf course. There's a lot of trouble…and I hit the exact shot I wanted to, which is always nice, especially under pressure, and it was certainly nice to see the putt start on line."
Fox's victory will be one to remember, but all eyes now turn to the 2023 Ryder Cup in two weeks' time where the American's rest will be pitted against potential rust. There will be none of that for the home team as all 12 members of the European side made their way into the weekend in Surrey.
Hatton claimed runner-up honors to Fox with Rahm and Hovland rounding out the top five at 16 and 15 under respectively. The final day may have not gone the way Luke Donald's captain's picks Fleetwood or Aberg envisioned, but they would ultimately finish inside the top 10 as would McIlroy and Sepp Straka. Shane Lowry and Matt Fitzpatrick finished in a share of 18th to make it nine European Ryder Cup members inside the top 20.
"It was nice to see the play better yesterday and again today, really happy with where my wedge play and iron play is," said McIlroy, who went 12 under across his final 36 holes. "Over the weekend I started to hole some more putts, the weekend was great…It's been two solid weeks and definitely things to improve and to work on, but everything's headed in the right direction."
All directions point to Rome where the Europeans will put their 30-year home winning streak on the line at Marco Simone. Peaking at the precise right time, this band of 12 look to be in rhythm, but even McIlroy understands to temper expectations with the competition more than a week away.
"I don't want to get too excited, there's still nearly two weeks to go before we tee it up on the Friday of The Ryder Cup," McIlroy said. "Still got plenty of time."