Trophee Hassan II Preview, Picks & Analysis
WHEN Edoardo Molinari stepped on to the first tee at Trophee Hassan II at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam last year his career was in no man’s land. The Italian had won the US Amateur championship and when he turned professional the success continued.
In 2009 he won the Challenge Tour order of merit and the World Cup with his brother Francesco. The following year he won the Scottish Open and the Johnnie Walker Championship to make the 2010 European Ryder Cup team alongside Francesco. They would play together at Celtic Manor and were part of Colin Montgomerie’s team that won the trophy in dramatic fashion.
Back then, you would have bet all the money in the world that it would be Edoardo who would have been the brother that would have gone on to win on a regular basis. Like Francesco, he had always been a wonderful ball striker. Unlike his brother, he had a super-smooth putting stroke. But it all went wrong for Edoardo, so much so that, almost unbelievably, he lost his playing privileges and had to head back to the qualifying school, a gut-wrenching experience for any tour professional, but most especially for somebody who has played at the very highest level.
In 2011 he finished 11th at The Masters and at one stage during the year he was ranked 44th in the world. He missed three months of the next season after having to undergo surgery on a troublesome wrist injury. There were a series of missed cuts, and Molinari’s problems continued when he began to suffer pain in a finger. Ultimately, he had to go under the surgeon’s knife again in 2013.
Eight consecutive missed cuts in 2015 cost him his card but he immediately won it back at qualifying school. But another disappointing season meant that he ended up losing his rights again in 2016. Back he went to school and, for the second year in succession, he got his card back.
But there were few signs that anything special was about to happen when he arrived in Morocco 12 months ago. Molinari had other ideas, however, and went on to beat Paul Dunne in a playoff. What gave him the most satisfaction was that he won after opening with rounds of 71 and 74. He shot 70 and 68 at the weekend though and then beat Dunne at the first hole in the playoff. He was back, with a full two-year exemption.
Molinari is one of a host of former Ryder Cup players in the field this week. He will be joined by 2016 Ryder Cup players Andy Sullivan and Chris Wood, along with 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett. Former European Tour No 1 Robert Karlsson, 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie, Nicolas Colsaerts, Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson will also be there, under the watchful eye of Europe’s 2018 Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn, himself a member of winning teams in 1997, 2002 and 2014. Between them, these players have achieved 55 European Tour wins, with Bjorn claiming 15 of them on his own.
The tournament was first played in 2010, when it was won by Rhys Davies, of Wales. It was won in 2011 by David Horsey, in 2012 by Michael Hoey, in 2013 by Marcel Siem, in 2014 by Alejandro Canizares, in 2015 by Richie Ramsay and in 2016 by Jeunghun Wang, and all of those players will be teeing it up along with Molinari.
“It’s always special having the opportunity to defend a title, and I can’t wait to return to Morocco,” said Molinari. “The win last year was very important for my career, as I had struggled for a long time with injuries and bad form. I really had to earn it. Paul was playing some great golf and pushed me all the way on the final day and in the play-off.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the golf course plays after the recent renovations, it will pose a new challenge for all of us.”
Dunne has, of course, gone on to bigger and better things, fighting off the challenge of a charging Rory McIlroy to win the British Masters last year and enjoying considerable success on the PGA Tour in 2018. He is back in Morocco and will be looking to go one better this time. A man of small stature, Dunne hits the ball a mile and, as he proved in winning at Close House, he has a brilliant short game.
With his victory in 2016, Wang became the youngest winner on the European Tour since 2012 - aged 20 years and 256 days - he then became the first player since Rory McIlroy in 2014 to win consecutive events on the European Tour, when he went on to win the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open the following week.
Also in the field are George Coetzee, Joost Luiten, Wade Ormsby, Eddie Pepperell, Matt Wallace – all winners on the European Tour in 2018.
Eddie Pepperell. Showed some real guts in missing the cut in Spain with brilliant second round
Nicolas Colsaerts. One of the best ball strikers around
Joost Luiten. Why doesn’t this guy win more often?
Eddie Pepperell. Now a proven winner
Nicolas Colsaerts. Hits the ball a mile
Joost Luiten. Is there a better putter anywhere?
George Coetzee. Smooth as silk
Matt Wallace. A contender whenever he tees it up
Paul Dunne. Becoming a world-class player
Dean Burmester. One of the best of the South Africans
Thomas Pieters. Which version of Pieters will show up?
Jeunghun Wang. Has all the potential in the world
Jordan Smith. Too good to keep struggling
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