By Fatiha Betscher, Yas Links, Abu Dhabi.
We all know the sight of one swallow does not make for summer and it’s the same in golf with Italian Francesco Molinari needing no reminder that his good play at last week’s Hero Cup does not ensure he will be teeing-up later this year on home soil in the Ryder Cup.
Molinari was undefeated in last week’s inaugural team event at the nearby Abu Dhabi Golf Club, and now after two rounds of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, he’s put himself in contention to taste success for a first time since his 2018 Open Championship triumph at Carnoustie.
The 40-year-old has posted back-to-back scores of 67 to enjoy a share of the halfway lead alongside fellow Italian Guido Migliozzi in the richest staging of this year’s $US9m event at 10-under-par on the Yas Links course.
Molinari was out early but hardly lighting-up the Kyle Phillips designed course with an outward half of 37 that included two birdies, a bogey and a ‘standing out like a dog’s hind leg’ double-bogey.
But as so often is the case in golf, and with two halves more often than not the same, Molinari stormed home and into the lead thanks to an inward half of 30, featuring six birdies and three in succession from his 12th hole.
And after speaking of his round, it led to the inevitable question, is the veteran of three winning European Ryder Cup sides, and also the record-setting five-game winner at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Versailles, setting his mind on travelling to the Marco Simone Golf Club on the outskirts of Rome late in September?
“I’ve got Luke and the other vice captains telling me not to think about it (laughter). You know how it is, the more someone tells you not to think about something… Yeah, it’s there. I can’t really not think about it,” he said.
“So yes, if I’m going to be there, I want to be there trying to be, obviously, sort of contributing to the cause and to the team. I just don’t want to be there for any other reason. You know, there’s a long way to go. It’s nice to see some positive signs, and the best thing for me, I think there’s still loads of things I can improve, so just stay on that path and then we’ll see in September where we’re at.”
And while all of Italy will be wishing Molinari is a playing member of the 2023 European Ryder Cup team, he’s not overly concerned, not at this stage of the New Year, if he does not make Luke Donald’s side.
“No, I don’t think so necessarily, especially after last week, seeing some of the younger guys,” he said.
“Like I said at the end of last week, I think the European side of golf is in very safe hands. There’s loads of young talent coming through. Yeah, some weeks you’re going to get better fields than others.
“It’s hard right now obviously with the whole situation but it’s nice to see Rory playing next week. It’s nice to see some decent players this week, too. I think that’s the way it’s going to go. Obviously it’s not really anything different from the last few years. When you get to the top of the game, you play a little bit more in America, but we have got young European talent coming through, I think we are going to be alright.”
The conversation with Molinari ended on a serious note but it did reveal an insight to the US dwelling he and his family are living in, and what reminders there of a 10 tournament pro winning career that includes two Italian Open victories, a BMW PGA Championship win and being handed a Claret Jug.
Q. When you go back to the house after each tournament, are you reminded of what you have achieved in golf and do you look at The Ryder Cup trophies?
FRANCESCO MOLINARI: No. I don’t have a trophy room in Europe. I don’t think I have a picture of myself playing golf in the house.
Q. Is that on purpose?
FRANCESCO MOLINARI: No. I’ve always been that way. So, I don’t know.
Q. The Claret Jug?
FRANCESCO MOLINARI: I’ve got it somewhere. It’s not exposed. It’s not in the middle of the living room, yeah. I’m not that sort of guy. I don’t need to see it. I can still remember.
Q. So the kids are not drinking out of it, are they?
FRANCESCO MOLINARI: Maybe I need to check.
After Molinari had shot a second successive 67 in the morning courtesy of six birdies on his back nine, Migliozzi closed his second-round 69 with a hat-trick of birdies to join him at the summit.
“I was watching the leaderboard and I saw the captain right there on top, Francesco Molinari,” said Migliozzi. “It’s good; it will be a great battle over the weekend and if we play together tomorrow, it would be a pleasure.”
- Full scoring HERE