The Italian Open concluded at the Marco Simone Golf Club just outside Rome on Sunday. The tournament climaxed with a playoff victory for Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre, who prevailed over England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, the US Open champion, at the first extra hole. This was the second counting event for points to make the European team for the 2023 Ryder Cup match which will be held over the same course in a little over a year’s time. MacIntyre will feel he has a good chance of being among captain Luke Donald’s band of 12. Fitzpatrick will be taking nothing for granted but it would be a sporting seismic shock if he were not on the team.
On the eve of the tournament, Donald had dinner with Fitzpatrick, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Viktor Hovland and Tyrrell Hatton, not least to talk about the course set-up for the match next autumn. Back in 2002, the late Seve Ballesteros was surprised that Sam Torrance, the European captain, was contemplating making some changes to the course at The Belfry ahead of the match. Why would you do that, Seve asked – that’s diminishing the European advantage of having such familiarity with the layout. Marco Simone is considerably less well-known to Europe’s players than was The Belfry then, and Donald was surely correct to say: “We certainly want to put a premium on getting the ball in the fairway.” He added: “Some of the holes have a little bit too much width in areas.” Well, they might have done last week. Whistling Straits last year was set up to encourage and rewards the US bombers, not least by having negligible rough. McIlroy pointed out: “By forcing people to play more conservative off the tee, I think that helps the Europeans a little bit.” And given the hammering the Europeans were handed in Wisconsin, every little bit of help would seem to be a good idea.
The legal issues surrounding the eligibility or otherwise of LIV golfers to play on the DP World Tour and in the next Ryder Cup will apparently be decided in February. We will have to await the outcome of that and see, if the LIV ‘rebels’ are successful with their case, if any of them play their way on to the team via the revised qualifying process. It is hard to envisage Donald handing one of his six wild cards to a LIV player. One would have to feel this would be especially the case as regards Sergio Garcia, the all-time leading points scorer in the event, after he caused such a fuss about playing in the PGA Championship at Wentworth and didn’t even bother sticking around for his second round after a bad opening day.
McIlroy has made plain his position that no LIV players should be eligible to play in the match. Fitzpatrick seems to disagree. “I just want to win the Ryder Cup,” he said last week. (The 28-year-old has played in it twice, in 2016 and 2021 – both times in America, both times beaten.) “I want the 11 best guys. I’m not too bothered where they’re going to come from.” Spoken like a man who is indeed sick of losing.
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