Luke Donald will be keeping an eye on some of his potential European Ryder Cup team members in this week’s DS Automobiles Italian Open which takes place at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, the venue for September’s contest against the United States.
There are just under 150 days to go until the first tee shot at the Ryder Cup and this week’s DP World Tour event presents the last chance to play the course in competitive conditions before it hosts golf’s greatest team competition from September 26-October 1.
While it won’t be in use this week, some of the Ryder Cup infrastructure is already taking shape with the famous first tee grandstand partially complete ahead of Italy’s national open, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this week.
Former World Number One Donald has had a key say in course preparations for the eagerly anticipated 44th edition of the Ryder Cup, with several players in the field noting how the rough is noticeably thicker than in previous years.
“It’s great to be back here at Marco Simone,” says Donald. “I’ve brought my family this week. My three daughters have never been to Italy or to Rome. We came on Saturday and enjoyed some of the sights of Rome, which has been great. The last couple of days I’ve been here at the course. To see the stands going up is making it all feel very real and we’re pretty much on a countdown now to the Ryder Cup. It’s very exciting to be back here playing this week and the atmosphere and everything personally for me is starting to ramp up.
“With everything going on with my duties as Captain, I’ve still been able to play a full schedule. It’s important for me to play as much as I can, be around the players as much as I can and understand the golf courses they are playing. Personally I’ve been quite encouraged with my game. I’ve seen some good progress over the past year or so. I’ve started to hit the ball better off the tee, certainly the past few weeks, I’ve switched putting grip and seen some progress on the greens too. So I’m somewhat encouraged golf wise and it would be nice this week to have a good week on the golf course too.”
Among those is Victor Perez, who finished third last year, missing out on the play-off with Robert MacIntyre and Matt Fitzpatrick by one shot. The Frenchman is third on the DP World Tour Rankings in Partnership with Rolex after claiming his maiden Rolex Series title in Abu Dhabi at the start of the year and expects a tough but fair examination this week.
“I played the back nine,” said Perez. “They’ve added a couple of bunkers on 12 and 14. There are a few changes and a bit more rough. So I think they are trying to make it a bit tricker. It’s rained a lot in the last few days so it is playing a bit soft, so the scoring should be spread quite a bit. I think the good players are going to play great and with soft conditions you can make a lot of birdies. But with the rough, you can get penalised a bit more than in the past.”
Defending champion MacIntyre is looking forward to his first title defence in the Eternal City, while home favourite Guido Migliozzi admits competing at this year’s Ryder Cup on home soil would be “more than a dream”.
Donald is joined by his vice captains Thomas Bjørn, Edoardo Molinari and Nicolas Colsaerts in Italy this week, with the trio partnered together for the first two rounds.
From an Irish perspective, Tom McKibbin, John Murphy and Gary Hurley all take their chance.
- Full tee-times HERE
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