From veterans rolling back the years to a fearless twin seizing his chance, here are the biggest takeaways from Abu Dhabi
The inaugural Hero Cup is now in the history books, with Francesco Molinari’s Continental Europe defeating Tommy Fleetwood’s Great Britain & Ireland by a comfortable 14.5 points to 10.5.
Wetting our appetites even more for the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome – as if we needed anymore incitement – the team event in Abu Dhabi provided the perfect warm-up up for the biennial tournament, giving Team Europe captain Luke Donald plenty to ponder as he aims to build a side capable of upsetting a star-studded Team USA.
Adrian Meronk holed the winning putt for Continental Europe as a host of rising stars and Ryder Cup hopefuls shone at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. From veterans rolling back the years to a fearless replacement seizing his chance, here are the biggest talking points from the 2023 Hero Cup…
He was captain fantastic at the Hero Cup, guiding his side to victory and orchestrating several interesting pairings for Luke Donald’s benefit, but it was Molinari’s performance on the course which was equally as impressive.
In truth, the Italian’s form over the past few years has meant his name has rarely been mentioned as a potential captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup. But as Molinari rolled back the years to pick up 3.5 points in Abu Dhabi – including a magnificent 3&2 singles victory over Shane Lowry – the veteran now can’t be ignored and could prove an invaluable asset on home soil in Rome.
“It’s a great motivation for me,” Molinari said when asked about making the squad. “I think I just need to be careful, because it’s still a long way away. I just need to focus on my game, but like you said it’s definitely been a lot better than than it has. Being in Rome would be absolutely incredible.”
Pain for Shane
Lowry started the week by receiving the biggest accolade from his fellow Hero Cup players – the unanimous choice for last man standing at the bar(!) – but the Irishman sadly couldn’t follow up the feat on the course, playing all four matches only to lose them all. While unquestionably still a shoo-in for Rome, Lowry will be disappointed that he remained pointless on this occasion – the only player to do so.
A ‘hugely invaluable’ experience
It was billed as the ideal warm-up for the Ryder Cup, a chance for Donald to assess his options as he looks to a fill a void left by the European legends now at LIV Golf. So what did the Englishman make of the week as a whole?
“It’s been hugely invaluable to me personally and my vice-captains and the backroom,” Donald said. “Because it’s like a dry run for me. If I’d gone straight into Rome without any experience I think it would have been a very different job. So to be in this environment, to know that you’ve maybe made some errors, but to [now] correct those, that’s been invaluable.
“And especially for the players, it’s a great start to their season. It puts them into a great mindset immediately to perform for the next few months. I think they’ve really enjoyed it. There’s nothing quite like that team atmosphere.”
Nicolai seizes opportunity
We’ve always felt there’s a good chance one of the Hojgaard twins will be representing Team Europe at Marco Simone. And while Rasmus has shone in recent months to edge ahead of his brother – epitomised by his initial call up to the Hero Cup – Nicolai has now evened the balance after putting on a sensational display in Abu Dhabi.
Replacing his injured twin at the last minute, the 21-year-old seized his opportunity by posting a fearless 3.5 points to help Continental Europe land the win, a tally which included several highlight reel shots.
The Italian Stallion
With a host of Ryder Cup outsiders selected for the warm-up event, the question lay with who would put on the perfect audition and emerge as a real candidate for Donald’s side. While the before-mentioned Hojgaard made an impression alongside his skipper, Bob MacIntyre, Victor Perez and Guido Migliozzi all made their own names equally as difficult to ignore, the latter two going unbeaten to post 3.5 points respectively and make a real statement ahead of Rome.
Migliozzi in particular was a real star of the show, defeating Richard Mansell 5&4 in singles while holing several clutch putts during foursomes to display his match play qualities. Building on last year’s French Open win, the Italian would certainly be a well-received addition in Rome.
Empty Abu Dhabi
Now for one of the few downsides to this whole event – the venue. We get it, the DP World Tour has a stacked 2023 schedule, so fitting in such a tournament was always going to be difficult and needed to work logistically around the circuit’s Dubai swing. But with an unsurprising lack of fanfare out in support at Abu Dhabi Golf Club – despite the free admission – several big putts and decisive moments ultimately fell massively flat.
While perhaps unrealistic, the Hero Cup is crying out to be played somewhere in Great Britain and Ireland moving forward. Doing so would guarantee a fully supported event, creating a buzz and atmosphere at least somewhere on the way to what the players should come to expect when teeing up at the Ryder Cup itself. Which, after all, is what this tournament is all about.
The full 2023 Hero Cup results can be found here.