Italy’s Francesco Molinari was almost lost for words after capping an incredible season by winning the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Molinari became the first Italian player to win a major when he claimed the Open Championship at Carnoustie, which followed victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and a maiden PGA Tour title in the Quicken Loans National.
The 36-year-old then became the first European player to compile a perfect 5-0 record in the Ryder Cup victory at Le Golf National, having already teamed up with Tommy Fleetwood to make history as the first European pair to win all four of their matches together.
And Molinari’s status as European number one was officially confirmed at the DP World Tour Championship as soon as Tommy Fleetwood was unable to claim the victory he required to overhaul his good friend.
“Incredible, incredible,” said Molinari, who embraced Fleetwood on the clubhouse steps once the result was confirmed. “You know, now I’m going to have time to sit down and relax and really think back about the last few months.
“I’m really struggling for words. It’s more than I ever dreamed of achieving.
I’ve seen guys that I think are better players than me not winning majors and not winning Order of Merits or Race to Dubai. To achieve those things, you know, in one single season, is just incredible.”
Molinari is set to be the first golfer to be awarded the Collare d’oro al merito sportivo, the highest honour conferred by the Italian National Olympic Committee, after which he will face the tough task of planning how to improve next season.
“I don’t know who is more tired between Tommy and I,” he added. “We both looked exhausted on the course. It is a long season and we play a lot of tournaments.
“The Ryder Cup was an amazing week, but it does take a big toll and now it’s time to relax and recover and try to get stronger for next year. To be honest I don’t know how to face next season yet. It’s going to be nearly impossible to repeat or to beat that, but after a break I need to start working hard and get ready for another good season.
“It’s a new challenge. We’ve been doing very well this year when it comes to the challenges. I had never won a Ryder Cup match and I won five out of five.
“Carnoustie was really not my favourite place, to say the least, before this year, and to go there and win it’s incredible and it’s probably impossible to process still all of that.”
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The season-ending DP World Tour Championship is set for an enthralling final round with Danny Willett and Patrick Reed tied for the lead on 14-under par on a day of low scoring at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Willett, who will be leading from the front after 54 holes for the first time since the 2017 Maybank Championship, posted his third successive round of five-under par 65 as he searches for his first title since the 2016 Masters Tournament.
“My main goal this year was not really a golfing goal, but body-wise,” Willett said after a third round of 68. “If I could finish the season healthier and fitter than I started the season, I would be somewhere near and that’s exactly what we’ve done.
“This is the sixth out of seven weeks playing golf. We’ve travelled all around the world trying to play a good bit, and it’s nice that my body feels as good now as it ever has, really.”
“I’m not going to lie it would be an amazing thing to win, but regardless of what happens, just looking more in the long-term of my career, really, is pretty good.”
Reed, who has also claimed the iconic Green Jacket at Augusta National earlier this year, only managed to pick up one shot on the front nine but the American reeled off four birdies in six holes on the back nine to grab a slice of the lead.
“It means a lot to be in with a shout,” said Reed. “Just to be in the situation to be able to come over here and play, with the limited schedule that I play over here on The European Tour, and to have a chance to go out and finish the year off right and win a golf tournament, give myself a little early Christmas gift, a trophy, would be amazing.”
Meanwhile, Lee Westwood’s hunt for back-to-back European Tour titles and a second DP World Tour Championship crown is well and truly on after a spellbinding seven under par 65 left the Englishman in a tie for fourth place, just two shots off the lead.
“I played great, I got off to a quick start, which I wanted to do,” said the 45 year old. “I’m just pleased I shot 65 and got myself in there and closer to the leaders, with the conditions as they are and if the wind stays up, then they may not get too far away from me. It’s a big improvement today and gives me a chance tomorrow.”
Fellow Englishman Matt Wallace and South Africa’s Dean Burmester join the 24-time European Tour winner in fourth place after carding 71 and 68 respectively.
Joint leaders Patrick Reed and Danny Willett tee off at 12.00 in the final round of the DP World Tour Championship on Sunday.
Here’s the groups and UAE tee times for the final round.
07:00 Ian Poulter
07:10 Chris Wood, Jorge Campillo
07:20 Martin Kaymer, Brandon Stone
07:30 Robert Rock, Joakim Lagergren
07:40 Darren Fichardt, Lucas Herbert
07:50 Aaron Rai, Paul Dunne
08:00 Mike Lorenzo-vera, Alexander Levy
08:10 Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thorbjørn Olesen
08:20 Lee Slattery, Ryan Fox
08:30 Branden Grace, Russell Knox
08:45 Ashun Wu, Ross Fisher
08:55 Sam Horsfield, Lucas Bjerregaard
09:05 Matthew Southgate, Hideto Tanihara
09:15 Joost Luiten, Xander Schauffele
09:25 Mikko Korhonen, Francesco Molinari
09:35 Chris Paisley, Erik Van Rooyen
09:45 Shane Lowry , Tommy Fleetwood
09:55 Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters
10:05 Rafa Cabrera Bello, Haotong Li
10:15 Wade Ormsby, Thomas Detry
10:30 Dylan Frittelli, Andrea Pavan
10:40 Andy Sullivan, Tyrrell Hatton
10:50 Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Rory Mcilroy
11:00 Alexander Björk, Alex Noren
11:10 Henrik Stenson, Jon Rahm
11:20 Shubhankar Sharma, Sergio Garcia
11:30 Tom Lewis, Adrian Otaegui
11:40 Dean Burmester, Matt Wallace
11:50 Jordan Smith, Lee Westwood
12:00 Danny Willett, Patrick Reed