Captains Molinari, Fleetwood lead from the front in a close Hero Cup clash

Francesco Molinari, at 40, a three-time member of winning Ryder Cup teams, gave his young teammate, Nicolai Hojgaard, 21, a first-hand exhibition of team play as they won both their matches on the second day of the Hero Cup.

Combined with the half point they got from the first day, they stay unbeaten after two days two and a half points out of three.

The morning session was tied with both teams taking two and a half points each and in the afternoon it was still even till Robert MacIntyre, who had so far not lost a match, and Seamus Power lost 2&1 against the French-Italian pairing of Victor Perez and Guido Migliozzi.

That gave Continental Europe a 3-2 win in the session and took the total score to eight and a half against the six and a half points for GB & I with 10 singles coming up on Sunday.

The two points from the Molinari-Hojgaard combo played a key role in Continental Europe extending their one-point lead to two over the Tommy Fleetwood-led Great Britain & Ireland.

The contests continued to be tight with none of the matches finishing earlier than 16 holes on the second day and only one match ended on the 14th on the first.

Fleetwood played a key role in keeping his team’s deficit to a manageable two as he teamed with Tyrrell Hatton in the morning and then Jordan Smith in the afternoon to win both matches. Fleetwood-Hatton beat Sepp Straka and Thomas Detry on the 18th in the morning and then Fleetwood-Smith beat the till-then unbeaten Thomas Pieters and Alex Noren 2&1 in the top match of the afternoon. The afternoon win was also a revenge of sorts for Fleetwood, who with Lowry, had been stunned by Pieters – Noren in the opening match of the week.

Young Hojgaard got first-hand lessons on team play at this level as he partnered the experienced Molinari. They beat close friends Callum Shinkwin and Matt Wallace 3&1 in the morning and then Ewen Ferguson and Nigel Mansell 2&1 in the afternoon.

Molinari was full of praise for Hojgaard, saying: “I’m super, super impressed. It’s been great to be out with him. Great attitude. I couldn’t be happier.”

Also winning full points in both sessions were Perez and Migliozzi, who is eyeing a Ryder Cup spot in his home country, Italy, in September. The Perez-Migliozzi pairing put in a strong showing beating Irishmen Lowry and Seamus Power 3&2 in the morning and then beat Seamus Power and Scotsman MacIntyre in the afternoon. Lowry, the highest World ranked player at the Hero Cup at 20th, highest ranked has lost all his matches.

Talking about the match, Fleetwood said, “Win the first two games tomorrow and it’s all level. That’s what we’ve got to focus on. It’s been a very high standard so far. We’ve been behind all week and, if we can get off to a fast start in the singles and build momentum to get level with them and past them, that would be a really big deal to start with.”

On his own two wins, Fleetwood added, “There’s always individual pride when you get your own point and I’m happy about that. I loved playing with both Tyrrell and Jordan and was happy with how I performed with those guys.”

“There are times when it could go either way. You look at Shane and Tyrrell’s match, with Thomas (Detry) holing a monster putt at 17 as they finish birdie-birdie, which you can’t do anything about.”

In the morning, GB & I got off to a quick start taking the lead in each of the top three matches. However Continental Europe fought back and even looked like extending their lead. The pendulum swung yet again as a late flourish from GB&I denied them that as both team shares the five points up for grabs as the lead stayed at one point for Continental Europe.

Pieters and Noren twice rallied from behind to secure half a point against Ferguson and Mansell. Pieters-Noren tied the match at the 13th after winning four holes without reply. They lost the 17th to trail by one with but again Pieters and Noren won the 18th to tie the match.

Perez and Migliozzi closed out a superb 3&2 win over Irishmen Shane Lowry and Séamus Power in the bottom and Smith and MacIntyre handed GB & I a late boost with a comeback win over Antoine Rozner and Adrian Meronk.

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