Molinari-led Continental Europe win inaugural Hero Cup
Khel Today Bureau
Abu Dhabi: Starting the day with a two-point lead Continental Europe were led by skipper Francesco Molinari to a fine 14 ½ – 10 ½ win over defeated Great Britain and Ireland in the inaugural Hero Cup. Molinari’s team picked six points from the Sunday Singles session at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Continental Europe, who led by one point on the first day, extended it to tow 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 he was honoured by the Abu Dhabi Golf Club for his contribution to the game.
While Molinari excelled during the week staying unbeaten with 3.5 points in four matches, Adrian Meronk, the tall Pole, who had lost his three previous matches, picked the winning point beating Callum Shinkwin 1-up.
Captain Molinari set the tone with a 3&2 victory over Irishman Shane Lowry in the opening match of the day to ensure he ended the week unbeaten, dropping only half a point in the Friday fourballs.
Great Britain and Ireland bounced straight back with wins in matches three and four, with their captain Tommy Fleetwood beating Thomas Pieters 3&2, before England’s Tyrrell Hatton defeated Frenchman Antoine Rozner 5&4 to swing the momentum back in their favour.
Then came what proved to be the pivotal matches, with a stretch of tightly-contested pairings. Séamus Power and Denmark’s Nicolai Højgaard went toe-to-toe with the Irishman going 2-up through three holes, before the Dane reeled off a trio of birdies before the turn. Power got back on level terms with a birdie at the 13th but the point ultimately went to the Continental Europe team, as a Højgaard birdie at the 16th was enough for a 1up victory.
Matt Wallace’s 2&1 victory over Thomas Detry kept the Great Britain and Ireland hopes alive, but Victor 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 Hero Cup.
That meant it all came down to Poland’s Meronk, the two-time DP World Tour winner, who had lost all three of his matches across the first two days. He rose to the occasion as he holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the last to secure both a 1-up triumph over Callum Shinkwin and the Hero Cup for Continental Europe.
While Meronk was holing the all-important putt for the Trophy, both teams added one point to their overall tallies as Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre won 5&3 against Swede Alex Noren, before Italy’s Guido Migliozzi retained his unbeaten record with a 4&3 win against Richard Mansell, from England.
Molinari was thrilled with the win, and said, “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 good form, he added, “ Obviously it’s there. It’s a great motivation for me. 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. Like you said, 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 for his part won his singles, but the team lost. He said, “ 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, 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. Yeah, 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.”
Meronk said, “I didn’t hole a lot of putts today, and the whole tournament so it was great to have this final putt on the last on 18. It was a perfect pace with the team around me and special.
“Winning as a team is much more fun, you have these guys supporting you and playing with them and playing as a team, I think it’s just more fun and more enjoyable for me for sure.”