Francesco Molinari: Champion Golfer and Ryder Cup hero
When he arrived at Le Golf National, Francesco Molinari knew he had a point to prove.
In his previous two Ryder Cup appearances, the Italian had failed to even win a match despite being part of a winning team in 2010 and 2012. Three days later, he had ensured his name will go down in Ryder Cup folklore.
The 35-year-old completed the year of his life in Paris by winning five matches across three days against one of the strongest USA sides ever assembled, combining superbly with Tommy Fleetwood in fourballs and foursomes before seeing off Phil Mickelson in the singles. His record read: played five, won five.
After winning his maiden major in such spectacular style at Carnoustie in July, Molinari has joined the best players in the world and, once again, he showed why on the biggest stage. He played like a true Champion Golfer.
It came as no surprise to see Molinari partnered with Tommy Fleetwood, after the pair looked at ease during the practice rounds. And it worked brilliantly.
Only USA pair Larry Nelson and Lanny Wadkins had previously claimed two fourball wins and two foursome wins at a Ryder Cup. The best Europe had achieved was three wins and a draw, which they accumulated on four occasions.
But Molinari, along with Fleetwood, made new history. The first point was perhaps the most important on Friday morning after the USA, captained by Jim Furyk, stormed out of the blocks to win the first three points.
Facing the fearsome duo of Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed, Europe were up against it. But Molinari struck the first blow with a birdie on the first to establish early control.
The match swung back and forth, with the Americans moving ahead around the turn but Molinari again hit back with two outstanding putts to put Europe two up with two to play. Another stunning Molinari putt on 17 secured Europe’s first point.
For Bjorn, it was a case of why mess with a winning formula? He picked the pair again for the foursomes, where they eased past the formidable Justin Thomas and 2017 Champion Golfer Jordan Spieth as Europe roared from behind on a glorious afternoon to move 5-3 up.
Ryder Cup Saturdays are always glorious but Molinari and Fleetwood made this one doubly special as they picked up where they left off on a stunning day of golf.
Once again it was Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed who suffered their brilliance in the morning fourballs, with the Champion Golfer doing much of the damage.
Two birdies on the back nine did much of the damage as he sunk two superb putts, forcing the USA to fold on the 15th green and shake hands.
Even though there were concerns about lining up Fleetwood and Molinari for a fourth straight session, Bjorn went for it in the afternoon’s fourballs and, again, it paid off handsomely.
The unflappable Molinari made a superb start with a solid putt at the first against Woods and Bryson DeChambeau and they continued in that vein, nailing further putts throughout their round to win commandingly 5&4.
“I had an amazing partner in Tommy. It never felt like I had a rookie playing alongside me,” Molinari said.
The final flourish
Europe took a healthy 10-6 lead into the Sunday singles, knowing that they were just four-and-a-half points away from victory.
But, with the Miracle of Medinah in the back of their minds, Europe knew they needed to maintain their cool.
Luckily, they had Molinari. After a tense start, which saw the USA either ahead or level in the first six singles matches, Europe came to the fore.
Down in the eighth match against Phil Mickelson, Molinari knew he held the key to victory. And fittingly, it was him who unlocked the celebrations.
After a promising start, USA wobbled and by the time Molinari and Mickelson approached the final stretch the result was almost confirmed.
But Molinari still had history to make. Mickelson proved to be a stubborn opponent but not even he could prevent a cleansweep of wins for Molinari and the Italian’s win was enough to push Europe over the line.
“It’s hard not to get emotional when you think about the other players, the vice captains, Thomas [Bjørn], the wives. It’s been an incredible week,” he said.
For Molinari, it has been an incredible year.
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