Fleetwood has enjoyed a whirlwind 16 months, rising from 188th in the world to 12th after retaining his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title on Sunday in the UAE capital.
He became European number one at the end of 2017 as he claimed the Race to Dubai crown in November.
And he is now firmly in the reckoning to make Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team in Paris in September – he is currently ranked fourth on the European World Points list and if the team was picked today, would comfortably be in the eight automatic picks.
World number 11 McIlroy was in contention in Abu Dhabi, finishing tied third with Matthew Fitzpatrick – another man currently inside the top eight too.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy looked fantastic on his first return following more than three months out with a rib injury, but again suffered Abu Dhabi heartbreak – it was his second third-placed finish, and he has also finished second four times in the capital.
At the moment he would be relying on being selected as one of Bjorn’s four captain’s picks, but McIlroy is pleased with Fleetwood’s meteoric rise, labelling it “incredible”.
“He had a great year last year, won the Race to Dubai, No1 in Europe and then to just keep going. This week, defending champion, to put that round of golf together out there (on Sunday), 65 in those conditions is seriously impressive,” said an impressed McIlroy, 28.
McIlroy’s challenge faded on Sunday in blustery conditions, only managing a -2 under 70, whereas Fleetwood’s fabulous -7 under saw him retain a title that kick-started his revival 12 months ago.
“A -7 under, -6 under back nine, I thought if you shot anything under par, -1 or -2 under on the back nine, that was a good score. For him to do that is seriously impressive. He’s been playing well for a long time now, and he’s the guy to beat in Europe right now.”
And McIlroy feels Fleetwood will be a great addition to Team Europe as they host this year’s competition at Le Golf National in September, with the knowledge that the United States haven’t won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry.
“He’s a great addition to the world of golf, a great addition to the European Tour and will be a great addition to the Ryder Cup team in September,” added McIlroy, who will hope to make his fifth consecutive appearance.
“I think the field that was assembled here this week is very, very strong, having the world No1 here and you had a lot of strong players.
“For Tommy to defend and in such style against such a great field, it bodes well not just for him, but for European golf. It will be a great addition to the Ryder Cup team.”
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