ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Europe’s next generation of players got a little taste of the match-play pressure they could encounter at the Ryder Cup in September when the Hero Cup got underway Friday with Continental Europe establishing a 3-2 lead over Britain & Ireland after the fourballs.
Four of the five matches went down the 18th hole at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, testing the nerves of players from both teams under the gaze of European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald ahead of the contest with the United States outside Rome.
Continental Europe coped slightly better, with Alex Noren making birdie at the last to seal a 1-up win alongside Thomas Pieters over Britain & Ireland’s lead pairing of Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry — the highest-ranked players in the competition.
It became 2-0 when Jordan Smith, partnering 26th-ranked Tyrrell Hatton, narrowly missed an eagle putt to the right on No. 18 and shook hands with Thomas Detry and Antoine Rozner, who wound up winning 2 up.
Then came Britain & Ireland’s fightback.
Matt Wallace got up and down from just off the 18th green for birdie to win the hole and halve the third match with Callum Shinkwin against Continental Europe’s Victor Perez and Guido Migliozzi.
Richard Mansell, who was playing with Ewen Ferguson, then holed a birdie putt at No. 18 to earn a half for Britain & Ireland against Francesco Molinari and Nicolai Hojgaard in Match No. 4, the last to finish.
Earlier, Seamus Power and Robert MacIntyre struck up a good partnership, beating Sepp Straka and Adrien Meronk 4&3 in the only early finish of the fourballs, earning the favored Britain & Ireland’s only full point.
“Unbelievable, really, that four matches go down the last,” said Fleetwood, who is captain of Britain & Ireland. “Just shows how close the teams are in terms of levels.
“I think, in the end, to get out of that session 3-2 we’ll definitely go back to our team rooms feeling the better.”
The event was added to the schedule to give Donald a chance to assess his options for Europe’s attempts to regain the Ryder Cup after a record 19-9 loss to the Americans at Whistling Straits in 2021.
His team is set to be missing veteran players like Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, who have long been the backbone of Europe’s lineup but who now all play in the Saudi-funded LIV Golf league, so Donald will need to bring through a younger batch.
“I think obviously a lot of tight matches, which is good for Luke and the vice captains to see,” said Molinari, Continental Europe’s captain.
Power, MacIntyre and Rozner were particularly impressive Friday along with Pieters, who has Ryder Cup experience from 2016.
Power and MacIntyre were a combined 10 under after 13 holes before clinching their match two holes later, while Rozner’s big moment came at No. 17 when he responded to a huge birdie putt from Smith with a long putt himself to halve the hole and keep him and Detry 1 up heading to the last.
There was none of the Ryder Cup-style boisterousness outside the fairways — with a small number of spectators at Abu Dhabi Golf Club — but there were at least some fist pumps by players to show they cared.
There will be 10 foursomes across two sessions on Saturday and 10 singles matches on Sunday.
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