Bob MacIntyre is a player you can really trust to deliver, says Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald
Overseen by Donald, the three-day contest produced lots of positives for the Englishman, including strong playing performances from Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, the respective Continental Europe and Great Britain and Ireland captains.
Having been a star pairing for Thomas Bjorn in the 2018 win in France, Donald was quick to admit that he’d been happy to have the experienced duo in his ranks at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome in September.
“Our team is better with those guys playing well,” said the world No 1, speaking after watching Molinari receive the trophy following his side’s 14.5-10.5 win at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. “They’ve been there before, they know what it takes and both of them playing superb golf this week is a great step for them.
“Sometimes you can walk away from these events, having put your game under intense pressure and seeing how you react, and it makes it go to a different level and I wouldn’t be surprised if a bunch of these guys will play great over the next few weeks, few months leading up to Rome. So it’s great for me as captain that those two are playing great.”
Molinari, who became the first European player to win five points out of five in the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National, picked up three-and-a-half out of four on this occasion as the 2018 Open champion bids to secure a dream date against the Americans on home soil.
“He’s got a good match-play head to me and that's why a lot of guys call him ‘The Robot’ because he just hits it straight all the time and just keeps putting pressure on his opponent,” added Donald. “He just always seems to play the right shot at the right time and I’m happy for him.”
With three points out of four, Fleetwood shared the honour of being Great Britain and Ireland’s top performer with MacIntyre, who’d already impressed Donald when they played together in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last September before then winning the Italian Open on the Ryder Cup course and now grabbing his Hero Open opportunity with both hands.
“He’s got a lot of grit, a lot of heart,” said Donald of the Oban man, who won points alongside both Seamus Power and Jordan Smith on the opening two days before producing a polished performance as he beat experienced Swede Alex Noren 5&3 in the concluding singles session. “He embodies everything you want in a player that has to go up against the strong players in the US.
“You feel you can really trust him to deliver and it’s great for him to have another great week this week and also mixing well with the team in general. Everyone has different characteristics, but he seems very gritty, which I think is the best word to use, and that’s a very important characteristic when it comes to match-play.”
In addition to MacIntyre, Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez also boosted his hopes of joining the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick and Victor Hovland in trying to win the trophy back later this year by matching Molinari’s points tally.
So, too, did Molinari’s young compatriot, Guido Migliozzi, and Dane Nicolai Hojgaard, who was a late replacement for his injured twin brother, Rasmus. “There was a lot of pressure on him, having come in late and not being prepared mentally,” said Donald of the 21-year-old. “To step up and play as well as he did, including a run when he went birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie in a great singles match against Seamus Power – was great.”
Perhaps the surprise of the week was Shane Lowry, the highest-ranked player among the 20 involved, losing all four of his matches, especially over a course where he won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in 2019.
“He’s gutted that he didn’t contribute to his team, but I’m not going to walk away from here worrying about that,” said Donald of the Irishman. “Statistically, he played pretty well over the past couple of days. Shane isn’t someone that I would have been worried about if he’d gone 0-4 as he did this week. It wouldn’t surprise me if he won next week or the following week - he’s that good.”
Starting with this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the Ryder Cup hopefuls will now turn their attention back to the battle to try and secure six automatic spots, with Donald then completing his team with six selections. And, by the looks of things, he’s already been given lots of food for thought thanks to what was effectively a reinvention of the Seve Trophy.
“It couldn’t have been better,” he confessed. “The level of competition, you could see how much each team wanted to win and that’s what need in Rome. We need people who are determined to go out there and win back the Ryder Cup.
“I got to see an amazing standard of golf. I learned a lot about some of the players. I got to know some of the players a lot better. I got to see how both sides were reacting in a team environment and yeah, this was a great week to learn some stuff and move forward.”
On this evidence, Donald’s captaincy looks as though it will be measured and methodical and it was certainly a masterstroke by him to involve a posse of his predecessors as Sam Torrance, Jose Maria Olazabal, Paul McGinley and Thomas Bjorn all delivered inspirational speeches.
“It just shows how passionate they are about the Ryder Cup and how much they want to continue to give back their knowledge and share that with a younger generation. They made a huge impact on the players,” said Donald.
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