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The host with the most!

By Richard Williamson

THE only thing missing from Tommy Fleetwood’s homecoming was a triumphant march down the 18th to be crowned Betfred British Masters champion.

He came close, but while he was snapping at the heels of the leaders he could never quite force his way into the battle going on at the top as eventual winner Marcus Kinhult from Sweden ended the prospect of a four-way play-off with a birdie on the last.

If his putter had run a little hotter, if a few of the approaches had finished more snugly to the pin it might have been a different story.

But in every other respect this has been a magnificent week for golf on Merseyside, topped only by the pulling power of The Open Championship.

Fleetwood’s commitment to driving this tournament’s profile has been exemplary – every request greeted with a smiling acceptance, even when that included a mid-fairway TV interview as he walked down the eighth in the midst of his championship challenge. He was even out on Saturday night helping greenstaff repair the divots.

The result has been a perfect harmony between host, European Tour and Hillside, staging its first event of this stature since 1982. The club rose to the challenge superbly.

Those who are already aware of the pedigree of courses along England’s Golf Coast knew what lay in store, but to the uninitiated this week has been a box of delights.

Not even the drenching of the field for the curtain-raising pro-am, or the scurry off the course to avoid the threat of lightning on Friday, could dampen the enthusiasm for this event – and the players lapped it up.

The sun came out over the weekend… and so did the crowds. More than 30,000 streaming into Hillside over the two days.

Fleetwood’s progress was followed by a gallery last seen when Moses headed for the Red Sea, each shot watched over with a cathedral hush. He did his best to please them.

Frustratingly, the fireworks never quite came out of the box.

His approach to the first squeezed right into a bunker from an A1 position on the fairway, a pointer, perhaps, to the kind of pressure Fleetwood was feeling to deliver a reward for the fantastic support, for which he has repeatedly expressed his thanks.

He got that shot back at the next and added another on the fifth, but entered the back nine needing to conjure up a finish every bit as dramatic as football’s title race that was to unfold as the dust settled at Hillside.

A birdie at 11 offered hope, the gain was immediately given back at the next. Even for an Evertonian, there was too much blue on his card.

In the end, the demands of the last few days took their toll as he signed for a one over 73, a ten under tournament total and a share of eighth.

Fleetwood has made no secret of the fact that he would love to see the British Masters back.

“My own performances haven’t been that great, but it’s been a fantastic week,” he said. “There have been a lot of new experiences for me, and perhaps I was a little tired towards the end. I had wanted to win this event.

“But if they asked me to do it again, the answer would be yes.”

The British Masters will set off on its travels again next summer, but given the appetite of both the competitors and the spectators it surely won’t be long before Tommy’s coming home.