‘MoliWood’ showdown in Dubai can create perfect end to season
Rory McIlroy has a new driver in the bag as he hopes to finish the season with a first win
Tommy Fleetwood of England walks over a waterfall during the DP World Tour Championship ProAm held at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland practices before the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates. Photo: Ali Haider/EPA
It’s the ‘MoliWood’ story, as unbeaten Ryder Cup partners Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood are the only two players in an abridged field of 60 golfers that can win the Race to Dubai title. The fact that they are paired together in a two-ball on Thursday morning frames their tete-a-tete perfectly.
Everyone else will hustle to claim the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour season ending finale. It’s hardly a sideshow in terms of prestige and the €1.18 million winner’s cheque on offer but there is a feeling that more players in contention would have a broader appeal for the flagship event.
The shifting sands of the PGA Tour and European Tour schedules for 2019 ensures that the game’s elite will be choosier in terms of the tournaments they patronise, apparent already towards the end of this season; and that’s without any reference to the suggestion, correct or otherwise, that some of the top Americans are courted financially by sponsors to play in Europe from time to time.
Molinari, a worthy and memorable winner of the British Open Championship, can rule out any conjecture in top the Race to Dubai standings by winning in Dubai this week or finishing second. The only way Fleetwood, who claimed the accolade last year can usurp his good friend is to win and hope that the Italian finishes outside the top five in the tournament.
Fleetwood spoke about some gentle ribbing between the pair via text message in South Africa. “We’ve literally never mentioned it until last week and then made a couple of jokes about it. It’s funny, like he’ll say, like it’s in my hands, and I’ll say it’s in his. That’s just how it will be.
“It’s a very good thing that we’ll be teeing off on Thursday together, great for us as friends. You know you’re going out there with sort of the person that you’re closest with on Tour, trying to win the biggest prize that we play for.”
Molinari was equally effusive about his playing partner. “I know we said this and we’re going to sound really cheesy, but if I don’t win, I’d rather see him win than anyone else; we really are good friends and like I said, he’s had an amazing season. To think that he won last year, and to come here, still with a chance to win two in a row, it’s incredible, really.
“What I can say for me is that it’s been a great season (he also won the PGA Championship at Wentworth) and however it goes this week, I’m still going to have lots of great memories from what I’ve done this year, and probably the best memory is what we’ve done together with him in (the Ryder Cup) in France. I can’t really be mad at him, even if he wins,” he laughed. The rest of the field will be happy to leave them to the ‘bromance.’ Irrespective of what happens, they’ll always have Paris.
Rory McIlroy, four times a winner in Dubai, and twice in this tournament in 2012 and 2105 – Henrik Stenson is also a two-time winner over the Earth course – has a new driver in his bag. He made some changes to the set-up for the Sunday of the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa and was pleased with the outcome.
He explained: “So I’ve had that right miss in the bag with the driver pretty much all year, and it’s never been a shot that I’ve had. It’s always been, if anything, I’d miss it left, I’d turn it over too much. I don’t see a dead straight shot. If anything, I see maybe a little draw, and I haven’t been able to do that this year. So I’ve sort of been playing against my natural instincts, which sometimes is tough to trust.
“I drove it well parts of the year, but then whenever I got into final groups and under pressure, that right shot began to become more apparent. I think back to the first tee shot at Augusta on Sunday, Wentworth on the final day, Akron (and the) final day the Tour Championship.
“The reason I didn’t play better was because I didn’t put the ball in the fairway, and the reason I didn’t put the ball in the fairway is because I have this right miss with the driver.”
Paul Dunne, who will pair up with Shane Lowry to represent Ireland in the World Cup next week in Melbourne, tees it up in Dubai hoping to rediscover the quality of golf that saw him finish second in the Spanish Open and tied seventh at the Volvo China Open. It’s been a largely frustrating season for the Greystones golfer since those high points in April.
It’s a course that rewards the long hitters, those golfers that can comfortably sling it out over 300 yards have a huge advantage and it’s reflected in the tournament’s roll of honour in the 10-year history, the one exception Matthew Fitzpatrick’s victory in 2016.
The final chapter in the ‘Moliwood’ script will be revealed and either way it is sure to have a happy ending.