Francesco Molinari hails 'amazing' Hero Cup win for Continental Europe
Leading from the front - the Italian defeated fellow Open champion Shane Lowry in the first of ten last-day singles matches - Continental Europe beat a Great Britain and Ireland side captained by Tommy Fleetwood 14.5-10.5 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Fleetwood, who partnered Molinari to four wins at Le Golf National, also played well over the three days, as did Bob MacIntyre as he matched his captain’s contribution with three points out of four.
In what was effectively a reinvention of the Seve Trophy, though, the Continental Europeans emerged as worthy winners, with Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez, Italian Guido Migliozzo and Dane Nicolai Hojgaard all joining Molinari in lying down markers in the battle to be on Luke Donald’s Ryder Cup team in Rome later in the year.
“Amazing, amazing,” said the winning captain, who’d watched his side build up a two-point lead over the first three sessions in an intriguing contest in the United Arab Emirates. “It’s been a great week and I’m super happy for the guys.”
Molinari, who ended up recording three-and-a-half points, set the tone with a 3&2 victory over Lowry before GB and Ireland bounced back with wins from Fleetwood, who beatThomas Pieters 3&2, and fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton as he defeated Frenchman Antoine Rozner 5&4.
With only MacIntyre looking as though he would deliver for Fleetwood in the bottom four matches - and he did with an impressive 5&3 success over Alex Noren - it meant the pivotal ties were all in the middle of the draw.
In the best bout, Séamus Power and Højgaard, a late replacement for his injured brother, went toe-to-toe. The Irishman went two up through three holes before the Dane reeled off a trio of birdies before the turn.
Power, a two-time PGA Tour winner, got back on level terms with a birdie at the 13th, but the important point ultimately went to Continental Europe as a Højgaard birdie at the 16th effectively secured victory.
Matt Wallace’s 2&1 victory over Thomas Detry kept the Great Britain and Ireland hopes alive, but Perez, who finished the week unbeaten, completed a 4&2 win against Jordan Smith while Ewen Ferguson went down 5&4 to Sepp Straka to put Continental Europe within half a point of securing the trophy.
That meant it all came down to Poland’s Adrian Meronk. The two-time DP World Tour winner had lost all three of his matches across the first two days, but he made it count when it mattered as he holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the last to secure both a one-hole triumph over Callum Shinkwin and the Hero Cup for his side, with Migliozzi, in the final match to finish, retained his unbeaten record with a 4&3 win against Englishman Richard Mansell.
“Many pairings seemed to gel really, really well, which was great,” said Molinari as he savoured the success. “That made my job a lot easier because I didn't have to tinker and change too much. Just spending time with some of the guys, the younger guys that maybe I didn't know as well, it's been great fun.”
The 2018 Open champion had been off the boil for a bit, but, with a Ryder Cup on home soil on the horizon and his brother, Edoardo, being one of Donald’s vice captions, he’s hoping to use this performance to kick on.
“It's a great motivation for me,” he admitted. “I need to be careful; it's a long way away and there's a lot of golf to be played in between and a lot of goals, intermediate goals to get there. So just focus on my game. It's definitely much better than it's been. So hopefully I can play some good golf and be in Rome. Being in Rome would be absolutely incredible.”
Fleetwood had no complaints about the outcome. “It's not always about how you play,” he insisted. “Obviously we came here to win and we wanted to do it for each other, but the first thing that I said at the start of the week was teammates don't remember if you play bad or you miss a putt or you lose a point but everybody remembers if you don't give it 100 per cent, and I couldn't have asked for anymore from anybody this week.
“It's been amazing and it's been an amazing experience for me. I wish we could have got it done but at the same time, you do; you remember these moments forever and you cherish them.
“They played great week, and, even right until the end, you saw them holing the putts that mattered. I'm sure Fran will have done a fantastic job. Yeah, they clearly deserved it this week. They played the best golf.”
Ferguson, who’d tied his opening two matches alongside Mansell, felt disappointed by his last-day performance. “It was tough today,” admitted the Bearsden man, who’d earned his place on the GB&I team on the back of two wins on the DP World Tour last season. I played poorly. I tried to get it going, but it unravelled, to be honest. I tried to take on things, but made more mistakes when I should probably have been more patient and accepted that halves sometimes aren’t that bad.
“Instead of just trying to hit fairways and greens, all of a sudden I was trying to hit harder off tee shots to get it further and trying to hit it stiff all the time. I didn’t play my style of golf at all and didn’t put any pressure on him.”
Singles results (Continental Europe names first)
Francesco Molinari bt Shane Lowry 3&2
Thomas Pieters lost to Tommy Fleetwood 3&2
Antoine Rozner lost to Tyrrell Hatton 5&4
Nicolai Hojgaard bt Seamus Power 1 hole
Thomas Detry lost to Matt Wallace 2&1
Adrian Meronk bt Callum Shinkwin 1 hole
Victor Perez bt Jordan Smith 4&2
Sepp Straka bt Ewen Ferguson 5&4
Alex Noren lost to Bob MacIntyre 5&3
Guido Migliozzi bt Richard Mansell 4&3
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