Molinari brothers enjoy great couple of days

Francesco Molinari shares the lead with Sergio Garcia at the halfway stage in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Picture: AP
Francesco Molinari shares the lead with Sergio Garcia at the halfway stage in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Picture: AP
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It’s been a decent couple of days for the Molinaris.

First Edoardo, the older of the golfing siblings, secured his European Tour card for next season by finishing joint-second alongside Scott Henry in the final of the Qualifying School in Spain.

Now on-form Francesco is sharing the halfway lead with Sergio Garcia in the £6.4 million DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, where overnight leader Lee Westwood was on course to make it a three-way tie for top spot until he hit his approach at the last in the water after being putt off by a camera click.

Molinari and Garcia have carded matching scores of 68 and 67 on the Greg Norman-designed Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates to sit on nine-under-par in the battle for a top prize worth more than £1 million.

Both are feeling quietly confident about their chances of finishing off the job this weekend. Molinari has chalked up three top-six finishes here; Garcia has two top-10s to his name in the European Tour’s season-finale.

Molinari, who signed for six birdies, including three in a row from the 14th in his five-under-par second-day effort, is on an end-of-season roll. He won the Italian Open then closed with a 61 to finish fourth behind Australian Rod Pampling in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. In his most recent outing, the 34-year-old claimed sixth spot behind Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.

“I’m playing good golf at the moment and it’s every part of my game,” admitted the two-time Ryder Cup player. “This is a course I like and I don’t see it being an advantage to the big-hitters. The greens are big, but you’ve got to hit the right portion.

“I think it suits the game I play and, especially the way I’m playing, it’s nice to be up there. It’s still early, but if I can keep playing how I have been, then hopefully I can be in the mix on Sunday.”

The Molinari brothers, of course, were Ryder Cup team-mates under Colin Montgomerie in Wales in 2010. Edoardo, who earned one of the Scot’s wild-cards after winning the final qualifying event, the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, has suffered injury problems in recent years and that has contributed to him having to visit the end-of-season Qualifying School for the second year in a row after finishing outside the top 110 in the Race to Dubai.

“He was quite positive going into it this time and to pass that test again means his confidence is growing ahain,” said Francesco of his sibling, who led going into the final round at PGA Catalunya before being overtaken by Englishman Nathan Kimsey.

“He said he played well all six days and, though he was a bit disappointed not to win, it doesn’t make a huge difference. I’m looking forward to him being around for another year.”

Garcia signed for six birdies but was equally pleased with the par he salvaged at the 12th after finding a bush with his drive and being forced to take a penalty drop.

“I was fortunate a spectator found it for me and I was able to drop outside the bush,” said the 36-year-old Spaniard. “I hit a really good shot from 161 yards with a 7-iron and made a really nice putt. I had a good feeling on that putt. I felt like I was going to make it, and it was one of those career 4s.”

The world No 15, whose last European Tour triumph came in the 2014 Qatar Masters, won the Byron Nelson Classic on the PGA Tour in May before finishing joint-fifth in both the US Open at Oakmont and The Open at Royal Troon.

“I played really well at the Byron Nelson, but I’m feeling more comfortable now,” insisted Garcia, who is hoping to see the Spanish Open join the newly-announced Rolex Series - a collection of biig-money events on the European Tour - in the future. “That would be really good,” he added. “The Spanish Open is one of the oldest events on the Tour, so it would be nice it that happened.”

Westwood, who’d set the pace with a six-under 66, had been flawless, picking up birdies at the second, 14th and 16th to sit alongside Garcia and Molinari on nine-under, until taking a 6 at the last.

“Somebody clicked a camera on the right-hand side and it put me off,” he said of seeing his approach at the par-5 end up in the creek that snakes its way the entire length of the hole. “It happens and you just have to regroup.”

While he was unable to do that well enough to salvage a par due to a “poor pitch”, the 2009 winner is happy with his position heading into the weekend. “I played nicely again,” he said. “I’m one off the lead and got a good chance. I’m happy with the way I’m playing and trying to finish off the season strongly.”

Tyrrell Hatton, the Dunhill Links champion, carded a joint best-of-the-day 66 to sit two shots off the lead along with Austrian Bernd Wiesberger (67), South African Charl Schwartzel (67) and Dutchman Joost Luiten (69).

Defending champion Rory McIlroy is eight shots back after a 68, which marked a seven-shot improvement on his worst score in 29 rounds on this course.

“I think I was still in holiday mode yesterday as I wasn’t quite with it mentally,” said the world No 2. “I think I was still on the beach after two weeks off. I wasn’t switched on and wasn’t at the races. It was just a bad day.

“I was a bit sharper mentally today and I also holed a few more putts. Even if I’m eight or nine shots back heading into the weekend, I still feel I’ll have a decent chance. If I keep improving, I might not be far away.”

In the battle for the Race to Dubai title, Open champion Henrik Stenson remains in the driving seat despite the fact he’s “not playing great”. The Swede is on three-under alongside nearest challenger Danny Willett, with third-placed Alex Noren a shot ahead of the pair.

* Turkish Airlines fly daily five times per week in the winter from Edinburgh to Dubai via Istanbul with no charge for golf clubs. Check out www.turkishairlines.com for flights and prices