Thursday 22 February 2018

Molinari rises to take McGinley's challenge

Francesco Molinari
Francesco Molinari

William S Callahan

RYDER CUP captain Paul McGinley's wishes were best fulfilled by Francesco Molinari yesterday as the Italian seized the initiative and a share of the lead on the opening day at his national championship with a fabulous 66 in Turin.

Much of the talk before the Open d'Italia focused on Scot Stephen Gallacher's prospects of bumping Graeme McDowell out of the all-important top-nine on the qualifying points list for McGinley's team at Gleneagles.

Unless he manages to improve markedly on the hit-and-miss 72 that left him wallowing well off the pace required to achieve the first- or second-place finish on Sunday, he needs to leapfrog McDowell, Gallacher will need one of the three wild cards McGinley's due to give out on Tuesday.

One of those captain's picks certainly will go to Ian Poulter, with Lee Westwood's vast experience and powerful presence in the Ryder Cup locker room making him very difficult to leave at home, suggesting there's just one place up for grabs.

Gallacher's impressive record at Gleneagles, his local Tour venue, bolsters his case for selection but a sudden return to form by Luke Donald in the second FedEx Cup playoff, the Deutsche Bank Championship, which starts in TPC Boston today, could rekindle the Englishman's challenge.

At any other time, World No 1 Rory McIlroy, refreshed after a relaxing few days playing 'social golf' on Long Island gems Shinnecock Hills and Sebonack, would be the talk of the US Tour as he tries to repeat his 2012 victory at the Deutsche Bank and overhaul Barclays champ Hunter Mahan at the top of the FedEx charts.

Yet with US captain Tom Watson also scheduled to unveil his three picks on Tuesday, the main topic of conversation in Boston is the Ryder Cup. Mahan and Phil Mickelson's partner at Medinah, Keegan Bradley, are warm favourites with, it appears, Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson and Bill Haas contesting the final spot this Labour Holiday Weekend.

McGinley this week said he'd like to see Ryder Cup hopefuls draw inspiration from the pressure and expectation stirred by this week's climax to the Ryder Cup race and blast across that finishing line on Sunday.


Molinari, 14th in the points list behind Donald, Gallacher, Poulter and Miguel Angel Jimenez, rose brilliantly to the occasion and the added challenge of playing in front of his home crowd at Circolo de Golf Torino as he fired-off six birdies to share the lead with Austrian Bernd Wiesberger.

Interestingly, Molinari's brother Eduardo, 33, won the final counting event, the Johnnie Walker in Gleneagles, to persuade captain Colin Montgomerie to give him a pick for Celtic Manor, where he and Francesco played together.

Judging by yesterday's command performance on a tight, tree-lined course that patently suits his game, the talented Italian is willing and able to maintain this family tradition on Sunday and force the captain's hand. Sadly, Edoardo's chances of contending for this year's European team were undermined by injury.

Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin also flourished yesterday as a fine, five-under 67 gave him a share of third with American John Hahn, Scot Richie Ramsay, South African Hennie Otto and England's Richard Bland.

Maybin, 33, played well enough yesterday to suggest he's ready to turn around a subdued season and press strongly for a place well inside the top 110 in the Race to Dubai who at year's end and will retain their Tour cards. Currently, the Ulsterman is 124th with €137,768 won in 18 events.

Damien McGrane opened with a solid 71. Padraig Harrington, a strong contender for one of the two remaining Ryder Cup vice-captaincies, shared 66th on even-par with Gallacher, Darren Clarke and 13 others.

After playing the back nine in a wild and woolly three-over 39, Harrington then breathed life into his tournament with a splendid hat-trick of birdies at five, six and seven.Open d'Italia,

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