The Jordan Mixed Open Presented by Ayla, a pioneering new tournament engineered by the team at Ayla Golf Club, has proved an undisputed success, with competitors from all three co-sanctioning tours concurring that the innovative mixed format could set a blueprint for the future of the game.
In a nail-biting finish to the inaugural event, which witnessed competitors from the Challenge Tour, Staysure Tour and Ladies European Tour (LET) compete alongside one another for the first time, Dutchman Daan Huizing (Challenge Tour) saw off Meghan MacLaren (LET) to claim a two-shot victory and carve his name on the Triquetra Trophy with an impressive 16-under-par total.
Runner-up, MacLaren, who had previously spoken out about the disparity between pay and coverage of the men’s and women’s tours, demonstrated exceptional strength of character as she backed up her words with actions and highlighted the vast talent that presides on the Ladies European Tour with two consecutive rounds of 7-under-par 65, before final round of level par 72.
Francesco Molinari admits he has achieved his golfing dreams by winning the Open and performing Ryder Cup heroics, but remains hungry for more success.
Molinari became the first Italian player to win a major when he claimed the Open Championship at Carnoustie last year, 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 become the first European pair to win all four of their matches together.
Molinari ended 2018 by winning the European Tour’s Race to Dubai for the first time and has carried on where he left off in 2019, with victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and third place in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
“To be honest, I’ve achieved my dream, that was winning the Open last year,” Molinari said in a teleconference to promote his Open title defence at Royal Portrush in July. “I’ve achieved another dream that was to be one of the best players of the Ryder Cup and help Europe win the trophy back.
“So I think I’m at a stage where I’ve achieved my dreams and whatever comes now is going to be a bonus. I still have a lot of desire and I want to win more. I got a taste of it last year and it was great.
“For me winning is a huge motivation and spurs me on to do even more, and that’s what I’ve done this winter, working as hard as I have ever done. And I think you can see the way I’m playing that I didn’t settle, I didn’t stop.
“The dream is to keep improving. I feel like I haven’t reached my limit yet. The dream is to see how far I can go and hopefully get as many wins as possible along the way.”
While Portrush has not staged the Open itself since 1951, Molinari does have experience of the course – apart from the two new holes – after playing there in the 2012 Irish Open.
“I remember playing there the year after Darren (Clarke) had won the Open Championship and being paired with Darren the first round,” Molinari added.
“It was something I still remember, so I can only imagine what the Open is going to be; it is going to be even bigger, obviously, going back to Northern Ireland after so many years. Defending is always special, but defending in a place where the tournament has not been for so long I’m sure is going to be extra special.
“I’ve planned for a couple of weeks off before to try and prepare as good as I can and show up there giving me the best chance possible. Being a competitor, I want to do well.
“No matter how it goes, it might be the only time in my career that I get to defend a major title, you never know. So, I need to make the most of it and enjoy the reception I get from the crowd and just, yeah, you know, let it sink in even more.”
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PGA Tour players have voted to maintain the format which could see Tiger Woods take on Rory McIlroy in the last 16 of this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Woods and McIlroy will meet in the knockout stages if they can progress from their respective groups at Austin Country Club, with Woods up against Aaron Wise, Patrick Cantlay and Brandt Snedeker and McIlroy facing Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Harding and Luke List.
The group stage was introduced in 2015 and ensured star players would be in action for at least three days rather than potentially crashing out on Wednesday morning, but the tournament sponsors had proposed doubling the group-stage qualifiers to 32 before 36 holes of stroke-play competition over the weekend.
Woods told reporters: “This format is a little different for me, a new event, a new format. But it’s not really complicated – play well and take care of the bloke in front of you.”
According to a memo sent to players, the Tour’s Player Advisory Council (PAC) “was not supportive of the proposed format change”, but will continue to discuss alternative options.
“There’s really only two formats,” PAC member Paul Casey told Golf Channel. “If you want to introduce stroke play then you make it as it is in a lot of amateur match-play events and have a stroke-play qualifier and then a match-play knockout.
“Or go straight knockout, 64 guys. To me, that’s my thought on it and the vast majority of players seem to think that way.”
One suggestion is to use a nine-hole loop at Austin Country Club which runs alongside the Colorado River and provides the most scenic views.
“Maybe you have a stroke-play qualifier and get down to 16 or 32 guys and then you use a nine-hole loop,” added Casey, who faces Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, Australian Cameron Smith and American Charles Howell in Group 10.
“You’d play 18 holes, but those big structures that you only see on a Saturday or a Sunday for 20 minutes and then it’s gone, you’d loop around a couple of times. There’s some outside the box thinking going on, which I quite like.”
Woods has won the Match Play title three times but has not appeared in the event since losing to Howell in 2013, one of three first-round defeats he suffered under the old format.
McIlroy lifted the trophy in 2015 and reached the semi-finals the following year, but has failed to advance beyond the group stages since.
However, the four-time major winner comes into the week buoyed by his win in the Players Championship at Sawgrass as he continues his build-up to the Masters at Augusta National, where victory would make him only the sixth player to complete a career grand slam.
McIlroy has not thought too much about returning to the top of the world.
He told the Telegraph: “No, not really (when asked if it was a big thing). The big thing is winning my match tomorrow. That’s the first step in the process and if I win seven matches this week, then awesome.
“But, again, winning tournaments, getting No 1, all those accolades, it’s a by-product of doing all the little things right. Step by step they will add up to all that stuff that other people find important.”