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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Humbled Francesco Molinari feeling 'incredible' to be crowned 2018 Race to Dubai champion

Italian has enjoyed a remarkable year that includes his first major title and a flawless performance at the Ryder Cup

Tommy Fleetwood was among the first to congratulate Francesco Molinari.

The race was run, the former passing the baton to the latter as the final few hours of the DP World Tour Championship played out behind them.

From one European No 1 to another. Close pals, they clasped hands, shared an embrace and exchanged a couple of pleasantries. There were smiles all round, all genuine, each one sincere.

As Fleetwood has maintained for some time, if he could not hang onto his Race to Dubai crown this week, when the 2018 European Tour came to a close at Jumeirah Golf Estates, then he would not rather anyone else have it than Molinari.

He knew the British Open champion deserved it. The Italian, the first from his country to be clinch the Order of Merit, has experienced a phenomenal season, highlighted by a first win on the PGA Tour, victory at the European Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth, a first major, and a perfect five points from five as Europe stormed to the Ryder Cup.

No other European in history had won all their five matches.

To cap it all off, he is now Race to Dubai champion. By around 800,000 points from Patrick Reed, who snuck into second with a runner-up finish on Sunday. By approximately one million from Fleetwood.

“I'm really struggling for words,” Molinari said. “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 in one single season is just… incredible.”

Molinari, 36, closed out his campaign on Sunday with a 1-under par 71, to finish 6-under for the tournament and in a tie for 26th. He had come into the week knowing Fleetwood, nine years his junior, needed to win at the Earth Course to stand any chance of retaining the Race to Dubai crown.

After a valiant first two rounds, that suddenly felt attainable, but a 74 on Saturday prompted Fleetwood to concede: “You kind of know when your time’s up.”

He fared significantly better on Sunday, though, carding a 68 to settle in tied-16th.

Usually forthcoming, Fleetwood did not stop for the media afterwards, but there seemed no bitterness in that. Perhaps he was just letting his best buddy bask in the glow of a spectacular achievement.

“Incredible... incredible,” Molinari repeated. "Now I'm going to have time to sit down and relax and really think back about the last few months.

"This morning on the first tee, the announcement as the winner of the Open Championship, Race to Dubai leader - doesn't sound real at the moment.

“You look at the players who have won the Race to Dubai or the Order of Merit before that, and obviously it's only really the top players that have done it. I never thought something like this would happen to me, to be honest, and now it's going to be a challenge to reset before next year and work as hard as I did the past winter and try to reproduce the same golf.

“It's going to be nearly impossible to repeat or to beat that. It's going to take a while to get used to, but I'm looking forward at the same time to next year and I'm sure that there's more good golf to come from me. Hopefully we will see already next year.”

That the season went down to a duel between both halves of "Moliwood" provided the perfect script. The pair fused further their friendship at the recent Ryder Cup, when they went four-for-four together across Friday and Saturday - another historic feat - to secure for Europe what turned out to be an unassailable lead.

It probably would have been easier or more comfortable playing against someone else and not him, but it is what it is," Molinari said.

"He won last year. He's a great guy and an even better player, and he's going to win, I'm sure, a lot more Race to Dubais. He's a bit younger than me, so it was nice to win one this year.

"I don't have as much golf in front of me as he does, I think."

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Read more:

Francesco Molinari: Highlights of the Race to Dubai champion's historic season

Danny Willett’s wait is over as Englishman ends title drought with DP World Tour Championship win

Shubhankar Sharma caps 'great year' with European Tour rookie award