Continental Europe defeated Great Britain and Ireland 14 ½ – 10 ½ to win the inaugural Hero Cup after collecting six points from the Sunday singles session at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Italian Francesco Molinari’s team started the day with a two-point lead so knew they needed only four and half points to win the first edition of the new match play event and they made the perfect start.
Captain Molinari set the tone with a 3&2 victory over Irishman Shane Lowry in the opening match of the day to ensure he ended the week unbeaten, dropping only half a point in the Friday fourballs.
GB&I bounced straight back with wins in matches three and four, with their captain Tommy Fleetwood beating Thomas Pieters 3&2, before England’s Tyrrell Hatton defeated Frenchman Antoine Rozner 5&4 to swing the momentum back in their favour.
Then came what proved to be the pivotal matches, with a stretch of tightly-contested pairings. Séamus Power and Denmark’s Nicolai Højgaard went toe-to-toe with the Irishman going 2up through three holes, before the Dane reeled off a trio of birdies before the turn. Power got back on level terms with a birdie at the 13th, but the point ultimately went to the Continental Europe team as a Højgaard birdie at the 16th was enough for a 1up victory.
Matt Wallace’s 2&1 victory over Thomas Detry kept GB&I hopes alive, but Victor Perez – who finished the week unbeaten – completed a 4&2 win against Jordan Smith while Ewen Ferguson went down 5&4 to Sepp Straka to put Continental Europe within half a point of securing the trophy.
That meant it all came down to Adrian Meronk. The Pole had lost all three of his matches across the first two days, but he made it count when it mattered as he holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the last to secure both a 1up triumph over Callum Shinkwin and the Hero Cup for Continental Europe.
While Meronk was holing the all-important putt, both teams added one point to their overall tallies as Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre won 5&3 against Swede Alex Noren, before Italy’s Guido Migliozzi retained his unbeaten record with a 4&3 win against Richard Mansell.
A delighted Molinari said: “I’m super happy for the guys. Like I said all week, it’s been very easy being a captain for them. I think we found some really good pairings and just had a great week and I can only wish them all best for the rest of the season.
“It’s been invaluable experience, especially for the younger guys, but even for us older players, to play match play, just get the juices going early in the year, it’s a great event. We really enjoy it. The DP World Tour has done a great job at setting it up and obviously the crowds have enjoyed it as well.
“It’s a great motivation for me too, as being in Rome for the Ryder Cup as a player would be absolutely incredible. There’s a lot of golf to be played in between now and then, so my focus has to be on my game and play as well as I can.”
Fleetwood was disappointed not to have led his side to victory, but, like his opposing captain, understood the importance that the Hero Cup had in getting some matchplay experience into both teams. He said: “Obviously we came here to win and we wanted to do it for each other, but as I said to the players at the start of the week, all I wanted was for them to give it 100 percent, and not to worry if they missed a putt or lost a match, and I couldn’t have asked for anymore from anybody this week. It’s been an amazing experience for me. I wish we could have got it done, but at the same time I would like too congratulate the Continental boys on winning – well done!”