The European Tour heads to Italy for the Italian Open, the fifth Rolex Series event of 2019, at Olgiata Golf Club. Here are five things to look out for in Rome this week…
Francesco Molinari will play competitively on Italian soil for the first time since he won The Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Links last year and the first time since he famously won all five of his matches at The Ryder Cup in Paris, including sealing the winning point for Thomas Bjørn’s team.
The Italian clinched his maiden Rolex Series title at the 2018 BMW PGA Championship, a week before finishing runner-up in the Italian Open at Gardagolf Golf Club. It did not take long before Molinari was lifting a second trophy of a career-defining campaign as he won on the PGA Tour before returning to British shores where he became the first Italian to win a Major Championship.
He held off the challenge from Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Tiger Woods to become Italy’s first Major winner and will surely receive a hero’s welcome at Olgiata Golf Club this week.
A star-studded field will tee it up in Rome this week, featuring 12-time European Tour winner and Ryder Cup legend Ian Poulter, who lifted the trophy the last time the event was held at Olgiata in 2002. It was the Englishman’s second Italian Open victory in three seasons so he will be in confident mood this week.
Poulter is joined in the field by his Ryder Cup team mate and former World Number One Justin Rose, who is making his first appearance on Italian soil since Poulter reigned supreme in 2002. Their compatriot Paul Casey, meanwhile, is set to make his Italian Open debut.
Also in the field is home favourite Molinari, the recent BMW PGA Champion Danny Willett and current Open Champion Shane Lowry, who, like Willett, is going in search of his second Rolex Series title of the year, the Irishman having won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA in January.
This week’s Italian Open will mark the fifth Rolex Series event of the 2019 Race to Dubai and the second in the space of four weeks after last month’s BMW PGA Championship.
There have already been some spectacular moments from the Rolex Series events in 2019, with Lowry clinching his first win in four years at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA, before Jon Rahm became the first player to win three Rolex Series following his Dubai Duty Free Irish Open victory. A week later, Austrian Bernd Wiesberger continued his fantastic 2019 form by winning the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
Ryder Cup points at stake
The European 2020 Ryder Cup points race kicked off in earnest at the BMW PGA Championship last month, with Englishman Willett claiming 1,165 points and boosting his hopes of being part of Padraig Harrington’s team for Whistling Straits next year.
The Italian Open boasts the same points total for the winner this week, so there is an extra incentive for those Europeans in the field as they all chase the dream of representing their continent on American soil, with Harrington’s team hoping to defend the title they won in such spectacular fashion last year.
The Final Countdown
The cut off for the top 110 players on the European Tour to keep their cards for the 2020 season, and the leading 70 players to gain entry into the Turkish Airlines Open, comes at the conclusion of the Portugal Masters in three weeks’ time.
With 7,000 Race to Dubai Rankings points to be distributed at the Italian Open this week, it presents players on the cusp of retaining their European Tour card one final chance to make a significant leap up the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex.
Meanwhile, those players targeting the top 70 and qualification to next month’s Turkish Airlines Open, could make a big move towards that goal with a strong performance this week.