Molinari leads Continental Europe to inaugural Hero Cup victory

Molinari leads Continental Europe to inaugural Hero Cup victory

Continental Europe coasted to a comfortable four-point win over Great Britain and Ireland in the first edition of the Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

Members of the victorious Continental Europe team with the Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. Image courtesy Getty Images Members of the victorious Continental Europe team with the Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. Image courtesy Getty Images

Three-time Ryder Cup winner Francesco Molinari of Italy led Continental Europe to a comfortable four-point victory over Great Britain and Ireland in the inaugural edition of the Hero Cup that ended in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Created as a test tournament for Europe ahead of the iconic biennial trans-Atlantic event against the United States, the Hero Cup would have given continental skipper Luke Donald some critical pointers ahead of this year’s competition in Rome particularly if the blacklisting of LIV Golf recruits continues and a second string of talent is required.

Starting Sunday with a two-point lead, Continental Europe coasted to a 14 ½ to 10 ½ win over Great Britain and Ireland with Molinari’s team picking six points from the Sunday Singles at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Europe, who led by one point on the first day, extended it to two by the end of the second day and finally finished four points clear.

Molinari received the Hero Cup from Dr Pawan Munjal, Chairman and CEO of Hero Motocorp and was honoured by the Abu Dhabi Golf Club for his contribution to the game.

While Molinari excelled during the week with 3.5 points from his four matches, Adrian Meronk of Poland, who had lost his three previous matches, picked up the winning point by getting the better of Callum Shinkwin 1-up.

Molinari had set the tone with a 3&2 victory over Irishman Shane Lowry in the opening match to ensure he would end the week having dropped only half a point in the Friday fourballs.

Great Britain and Ireland bounced back with their captain Tommy Fleetwood beating Thomas Pieters 3&2 and fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton defeating Frenchman Antoine Rozner 5&4.

Pivotal matches

In what would prove to be the crucial match-up, Power and Denmark’s Nicolai Højgaard went toe-to-toe with the Irishman leading through three holes before the Dane reeled off a trio of birdies. Power got back on level terms but the point ultimately went to Europe as a Højgaard birdie was enough for a 1-up win.

Matt Wallace’s 2&1 victory over Thomas Detry kept Britain and Ireland alive, but Victor Perez – who also completed an unbeaten week – completed a 4&2 win over Jordan Smith while Ewen Ferguson went down 5&4 to Sepp Straka to put Continental Europe within half a point of securing the Hero Cup.

That meant it all came down to Poland’s Meronk, a two-time DP World Tour winner, who had lost all three of his matches over the first two days. The lanky Pole holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the last hole to secure both a 1-up triumph over Callum Shinkwin and the Hero Cup for Continental Europe.

While Meronk was holing his putt, both teams added one point each as Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre won 5&3 over Swede Alex Noren and Italy’s Guido Migliozzi retained his unbeaten record with a 4&3 win over Richard Mansell, from England.

Molinari said later, “Amazing, amazing. I could finally relax. The last couple of hours have been tense after finishing my game. But yeah, it's been great all week, super happy for the guys.

“Like I said all week, it's been very, very easy leading them and being a captain for them. I think we found some really good pairings and just had a great week to start the year and I can only wish them all best for the rest of the season.

He added, “(The experience was) invaluable, really, especially for the younger guys but even for us, to play match play, just get the juices going early, this early in the year, it's a great event. We really enjoy it. The DP World Tour has done a great job at setting it up. Obviously the crowds have enjoyed it as well.”

On his own form, Molinari added, “It's a great motivation. I need to be careful; it's a long way away (the Ryder Cup) 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.”

Added Fleetwood, “ Of course I am (disappointed). It's not always about how you play. Obviously we came here to win and we wanted to do it for each other but at the end of the day, 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 percent, and I couldn't have asked for anymore from anybody this week.”

“They played great all week, and even right until the end you saw them holing the putts that mattered. They played great, and Fran (Molinari), I haven't been around him at all this week, I've only played against him but I know and I'm sure Fran will have done a fantastic job.

“They clearly deserved it this week. They played the best golf. Some matches could have gone either way, and that's what happens; the winning team makes those moments count. And congratulations to those guys. It's hard to lose but well done to them.”

Published on: Jan 18, 2023, 1:11 PM IST
Posted by: Priya Raghuvanshi, Jan 18, 2023, 12:51 PM IST