Monday 26 September 2016

Italian job gives Clarke high hopes for Hazeltine as Ryder Cup looms large

Published 19/09/2016 | 02:30

Darren Clarke. Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Darren Clarke. Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke will have been encouraged by the performance of European team members in the Italian Open won by Francesco Molinari at Golf Club Milano yesterday.

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The non-USA based players will travel to Hazeltine, Minnesota, next Monday to link up with their Stateside team members and begin the serious preparations for the clash against the USA.

Captain's picks Martin Kaymer and Thomas Pieters are booked to play the Porsche European Open which starts in Bad Griesbach next Thursday, and they will hope to produce a good display before flying to America.

Padraig Harrington, one of Clarke's vice-captains, will also play the European Open, but the seven players who competed in the Italian Open will spend this week resting and honing their games ahead of the Ryder Cup.

Masters champion Danny Willet is coming into his best form at just the right time.

He shot a more than respectable five-under par 66 yesterday for -21 overall, but fell just a shot adrift of the hugely popular home winner Molinari.

Molinari's excellent 65 in the final round earned him the Italian Open title for the second time in his career.

Willett was slightly disappointed with second place, but he revelled in the atmosphere created by the passionate Italian support for Molinari.

The Green Jacket holder anticipates a white-hot backing for the home team at Hazeltine.

Pressure

As the cheers of celebration rang out from the galleries for Molinari's success, Willett said:"It's been a fantastic week.

"The crowds have been awesome. You're kind of getting a taste of what it's been like to play against Frankie (Molinari) in Italy.

"I'm sure it's going to be a hundred times worse when we get to the Ryder Cup in America, but it's actually been a little bit of a taster.

"It's been good to play under that pressure, and it's been good to be in contention," said Willett.

A fine sunny day offered welcome relief for all concerned at the weather-affected event.

Molinari, who also won the Italian Open in 2006, was relieved and delighted to accept the trophy for the fourth tournament victory of his career.

The weather delays caused a severe test of patience over the first three days, but six of the seven European Ryder Cup players could be satisfied with their performance.

Willett came back from being four shots down to run Molinari agonisingly close.

Rafa-Cabrera Bello was tied 12th on fourteen under par.

Matthew Fitzpatrick finished joint 16th on -13, and Martin Kaymer, Andy Sullivan, and Chris Wood were all tied-20 on twelve-under par.

Lee Westwood, the third wildcard selection made by Darren Clarke, missed the cut, as did Padraig Harrington and Thomas Bjorn, two of Clarke's vice-captains.

Ireland's Paul Dunne and Paul McGinley also missed the cut, while Michael Hoey withdrew after the opening round.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy is the only European Ryder Cup player in the 30-man field for this week's FedEx Cup finale, the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.

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