Italian Francesco Molinari will hope his fine run of recent form continues at this week’s Trophée Hassan II, an event which also marks the return to competitive action of Paul McGinley after the Irishman’s extended injury lay-off.
The Trophée Hassan II represents the first foray onto Moroccan soil for Molinari, who finished in tied 14th place at last week’s WGC-CA Championship – a result which moved him up to 34th in The Race to Dubai.
The €1.375million Pro-Am event, which started in 1971 but joins The European Tour International Schedule for the first time this year, will be held at the Robert Trent Jones-designed Red and Blue courses at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in the Moroccan capital of Rabat.
Teams will be comprised of one professional and one amateur, who will play both the Red and Blue courses on Thursday and Friday, with the leading 65 professionals and those tied for 65th place playing the remaining 36 holes over the Red course at the weekend.
Molinari, who won the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in partnership with brother Edoardo and finished a career-high of 14th in The Race to Dubai last year, is relishing the prospect of his first visit to Morocco.
“I’m excited about going to there," he said. "It’s a new tournament for The European Tour but it’s been played for many years, so it should be interesting and hopefully a lot of fun. I’ve heard good things about the course from some of the Italian guys who have played it on the Challenge Tour and my caddie’s also been there before, so he should be able to help me out. Apparently the tougher of the two courses is quite tight off the tee and it’s also quite long, so it should be a good test.
“Hopefully I’ll be in good shape, because it’s obviously quite a long flight from Miami to Morocco. It maybe helps that it’s a Pro-Am format, because it’ll be a more relaxed atmosphere. I’m playing with one of my managers from England, so it should be a lot of fun. He’s a good player although he hasn’t played for a few years now, but I think he’s been practising this week. So hopefully we’ll play well and also have a good time – as long as I beat him!”
In contrast to Molinari, whose appearance in Morocco will be his sixth stop in The 2010 Race to Dubai, there is little danger of burn-out for McGinley, who has not struck a ball in anger on The European Tour since the Barclays Singapore Open last November.
After his visit to the Far East McGinley, who had the honour of holing the winning putt for Europe at The 2002 Ryder Cup, returned home to his native Dublin to undergo a sixth operation on his left knee, which he first injured during a Gaelic football game aged 19.
After recuperating with extensive physio sessions McGinley was able to play a social round of golf in America recently, before making his way to Scotland last week to work with his coach Bob Torrance in a bid to shake off the rust caused by his four month absence from the fairways.
McGinley will be joined in Rabat by his fellow Irishmen Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey, Peter Lawrie, Shane Lowry and Damien McGrane, all European Tour champions.
Royal Golf Dar Es Salam has been a regular venue for both The European Tour and Challenge Tours down the years.
England’s Howard Clark won the inaugural Moroccan Open, whilst his compatriot David Gilford triumphed in 1992, followed by Sweden’s Peter Hedblom in 1996 and another Englishman, Ian Poulter, in 2001.
The Moroccan Golf Classic has been a regular fixture on the Challenge Tour in recent seasons, with the first two editions in 2002 and 2003 taking place at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam won, respectively, by Frenchman Jean-François Lucquin and Scotland’s Greig Hutcheon.
Recent winners of the Trophée Hasssan II include South African Ernie Els, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and Scotland’s Sam Torrance, who took the title in 2008, 2007 and 2006 respectively.
American Erik Compton, who won the Trophée Hasssan II in 2005, will play in this year’s event under a sponsor’s invitation, along with three-time winner Santiago Luna of Spain.
Luna’s compatriot Ignacio Garrido is another former winner in the field, whilst England’s Robert Coles will also be relishing his return to Morocco after winning there on the Challenge Tour last year.