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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Race to Dubai title at stake but Francesco Molinari 'can't be mad' at best friend Tommy Fleetwood

Italian does not believe his battle with Englishman to end season as European Tour's No 1 player will be tetchy affair

Francesco Molinari has enjoyed a brilliant season and looks good to end it on a high. Getty Images
Francesco Molinari has enjoyed a brilliant season and looks good to end it on a high. Getty Images

On Thursday, Francesco Molinari will rock up to the first tee of the last event of the season and look across at the only man standing between him and the Race to Dubai crown.

The stakes are high, the permutations crystal clear. Should Molinari’s playing partner win this week’s DP World Tour Championship, and he finishes outside the top five, then he will not become the first Italian to clinch the year-long gong.

In most instances, that would make for a terse, maybe even tetchy, battle around the Earth Course. No chance this time, though: Molinari’s Race rival is best pal Tommy Fleetwood.

“I can't really be mad at him, even if he wins,” the Race to Dubai front-runner joked on Wednesday. “We're too friendly. And it's Thursday, anyway, so it's too early to really think too far ahead.

“I'm sure we're going to have fun, and like any time we're paired together, all I can do is focus on my game and try to do as good as I can. I don't know honestly if that's going to be winning the tournament or finishing top 20 or top 10 or top 5.

"Whatever it is I need to do my best – and then have some deserved time off.”

Molinari has certainly earned the rest. This has been a marquee season for the British Open champion, what with a first major success, victory in the European Tour’s flagship event and another win, on the PGA Tour.

Then, there is the star showing at the Ryder Cup, when he became the first European to take five points from all five matches. Four came via the equally starry partnership with Fleetwood, a pairing dubbed “Moliwood” and producer of one of the best videos on any golf social media account this year.

Going up against his chum, the European No 1, it could make claiming the Race to Dubai even more daunting. Molinari disagrees.

“I know we said this and we're going to sound really cheesy, but if I don't win, I'd rather see him win than anyone else," he said. "We really are good friends and he's had an amazing season.

"To think that he won last year, and to come here, still with a chance to win two in a row, it's incredible, really.

“What I can say for me is that it's been a great season, and however it goes this week, I'm still going to have lots of great memories from all of what I've done this year. And probably the best memory is what we've done together with him in France.”

Besides, having Fleetwood alongside him on Thursday, at least, means Molinari can easily keep tabs on his closest challenger.

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Read more:

DP World Tour Championship: Take a look at the pairings and tee times for the first round

Jon Rahm remains the man to beat in Dubai after a steady – but not spectacular – season

Organisers 'respect' Rory McIlroy's decision to miss 2019 Omega Dubai Desert Classic

McIlroy determined to revive 'B-minus' season at the DP World Tour Championship

John McAuley: All you need to know about 2018 DP World Tour Championship

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Tommy Fleetwood has a tricky path to cross to finish the year as the European Tour's No 1 player. Getty Images
Tommy Fleetwood has a tricky path to cross to finish the year as the European Tour's No 1 player. Getty Images

“Well, yeah, I've got eyes, and there are leaderboards out there,” he said. “If there were four or five guys in the race, it would be hard to do the math, but basically, even with my poor math, it's really easy to do the calculations.

“I usually don't get too far ahead of myself. So in that way, on Thursday morning, nothing is going to be different. I need to go out and play my best and, hopefully on Sunday, I'll be leading or I'll be in with a chance.

"And if Tommy wins, fair play to him. He's had a great season so far, and to win here, it would make him the deserving winner of the Race to Dubai.”

Deserving is right, no matter who ends up with the honour.

“It would mean a lot because it's a year-race, which makes it a lot harder to win,” Molinari said. “You can have the best week of your life and win one tournament, but to win a competition that lasts throughout the season, with the amount of talent right now on the European Tour, is something really hard to do, but also still hard to figure out for me how I'm here in this position.

“It feels obviously incredible. I've never been here in the past. Really, it's a dream season for me. Hopefully I'll be able to close it out.”