Irish disappoint but Hojgaard, Perez and Bob give Donald food for thought

Ronan MacNamara
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Robert MacIntyre (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Golf has plenty of problems, LIV, the future of the DP World Tour, I suppose the WHS in Ireland (I’ll appease some of my colleagues), but I’m just thankful the sport isn’t plagued by these social media neanderthals on Twitter and Tiktok among other platforms, who are a constant eyesore for us sane sports fans with their horrific and horrendous opinions. 

Not to be one of these sensationalist clowns, but Victor Perez might be the greatest golfer the continent of Europe has ever produced. I jest of course, don’t worry I won’t be coming up with any Marcus Rashford/Thierry Henry comparisons or ‘this version of Eddie Nketiah is better than any version of Wayne Rooney,’ – makes you sick right?  

But to be fair, there was a hell of a lot to like on the Continental Europe side including captain Frankie himself. 

In fact, it was Molinari who lead by example, joint top scoring over the four sessions with 3.5 points including a dominant 3&2 singles win over a hapless Shane Lowry who had a horrible few days at a golf course where he has enjoyed great success in the past. 

While I admit I was curious to see how the likes of Hatton, Lowry, Power and Ferguson fared for GB&I and Meronk, Pieters and Detry for Continental Europe, it was Perez, Migliozzi, Hojgaard and MacIntyre who caught the eye. 

The trio also scored 3.5 points from their four matches as they stood out. 

It is only mid-January, and it’s unknown how much of a bearing the Hero Cup will have on Luke Donald’s selection plans for September’s Ryder Cup but there is no doubt there were some who grasped the opportunity to impress with both hands. 

Team Europe is in need of a revamp which is why the absence of Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia from Rome is absolutely no harm. Two years ago, Pádraig Harrington’s charges were flat, lacking a spark and had quite simply gone to the well too many times with the same core of players – much like a certain Premiership football team from the North West of England… 

Despite the USA’s constant refusal to admit so, Europe will go into September’s Ryder Cup as rank outsiders, which in my time watching Ryder Cups seems unfathomable given it’s a home tie. 

But USA were flamboyant, bullish, aggressive and swashbuckling with a collection of young players who look set to be around for at least four Ryder Cups, the potential absence of LIV rebels won’t hurt them. 

My thinking towards Rome from Luke Donald’s point of view was still to lean with experience in the likes of Alex Noren, Molinari and Pieters but given what I saw from Perez and Nicolai Hojgaard in particular I feel they have put their names in the frame for a rookie selection. 

I would still pick Noren and Molinari, their grit and steely determination is invaluable but Donald could do worse than sprinkle a little X-factor into the Boys in Blue. 

Perez is somewhat of the forgotten man of European golf. The Frenchman saw his Ryder Cup bid for Whistling Straits go up in smoke in 2021 but it’s not that long ago since he was as high as 29th in the world. 

Having fallen outside the top-150 in the world he ended a three-year winless run with at the Dutch Open to break back into the top-100 before later finishing third at the Italian Open at Marco Simone Golf Club. 

Still only 30, you could tell the week meant something to Perez, he displayed some infectious passion even over the most routine of putts and he was seriously impressive in swatting aside Jordan Smith 4&2 while he also dovetailed superbly with Italian Guido Migliozzi earning 2.5 points from their three matches together. 

Rasmus and Nicolai Hojgaard are both ranked outside the top-100 in the world despite boasting five DP World Tour wins between them at the age of 21. 

Rasmus was a late withdrawal due to injury but his twin brother seized his opportunity to impress and he was involved in a superb battle with Seamus Power, eventually shaking off the Waterford native to win 1UP. 

Nicolai’s eagle on the par-5 8th will stand with me for a long time, the wood out of the bunker and the 25-foot putt was something that I found most striking. 

The Dane – both Danes arguably – possess an unpredictability and are volatile enough to be worthy additions to the side in September. Nicolai and Molinari were impressive as a big guy, little guy combo and the former has certainly put his name in the back of Donald’s mind.  

The twins have been tipped for so much and they are destined to be part of many Ryder Cups to come. It’s unknown whether September will come too soon or not. 

In truth, Great Britain and Ireland were poor, too many weak pairings who were then exposed in the singles against better players. 

While Continental Europe emerged with several eyecatching performances, GB&I had as many players who looked short of the standard expected last week and in September. 

Richard Mansell and Ewen Ferguson battled valiantly as a pair but were comfortably beaten in their singles ties, although I would still have high hopes for the Scot who had a superb 2022 with a pair of wins. 

From an Irish point of view, Shane Lowry and Seamus Power came away with just the solitary point between them. Power was excellent alongside Robert MacIntyre in Friday’s fourball as they trounced Sepp Straka and Adrian Meronk 4&3. 

Unfortunately that was as good as it got for the Irish. Lowry looked fed up with golf at the Hero Challenge last month and cut an equally frustrated figure at the weekend as virtually nothing went right for the Offaly native. 

Power was unlucky not to get something from his singles match with Hojgaard but despite winning one and losing three, did little to damage the goodwill around his potential involvement in September and it will be both exciting and intriguing to see the Waterford man balance a schedule on both sides of the Atlantic. 

The two-time PGA Tour winner was rusty in Hawaii before coming over to Abu Dhabi and there were still signs of sloppiness, but that was to be expected given the time of year the Hero Cup was played in. 

One positive from GB&I was the performance of Robert MacIntyre who came away with three points as his resurgence continued. 

Like Perez, the Scot lost his way at the business end of qualifying for the 2021 Ryder Cup and had fallen to 113th in the world before a standout win at Marco Simone Golf Club at the Italian Open last September. 

MacIntyre gives his all and his gutsy, passionate nature would be a hit with European fans if he were to feature in Rome and he would be someone you would love to hole the winning putt. 

Compared to twelve months ago, European golf seems to be in a good place and worries of another drubbing at the hands of the Americans seem distant. 

It was a glistening end to 2021 from a European point of view with Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Lowry, Fleetwood, Noren and Detry all impressing to varying degrees and fans can look forward to 2023 with optimism. 

“I think both teams showed a very competitive but fair spirit. Obviously to my guys – incredible job. I’m super proud of each one of you. 

“I got to know some guys that I didn’t know very well and I can say that European golf is in very safe hands,” explained captain Molinari.  

It seems that way alright. Whether it’s enough in nine months’ time is anybody’s guess. 

 

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