By Phil Casey, PA Golf Correspondent
Europe captain Luke Donald hopes the inaugural Hero Cup will provide the ideal “stepping stone” towards regaining the Ryder Cup in September.
Donald is overseeing the event in Abu Dhabi along with playing captains Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari, with two 10-man teams competing for Great Britain and Ireland and Europe in foursomes, fourballs and singles.
The competition effectively fills the gap left by the Seve Trophy, which was held eight times between 2000 and 2013 and gave captaincy experience to future Ryder Cup skippers Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Nick Faldo, Paul McGinley and Thomas Bjorn.
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Following Henrik Stenson’s defection to LIV Golf which cost him the captaincy, Donald has been handed the daunting task of getting the Ryder Cup back in European hands following the record 19-9 defeat at Whistling Straits in 2021.
“I’m looking forward to watching the guys play in that team, match-play aspect,” Donald said.
“This was extremely important to get an event like this back on the schedule to give us an opportunity to get these guys in a team and see how they perform in match play. And this is a great first stepping stone, building blocks, for hopefully getting a very successful Ryder Cup in Rome.
“This is my first opportunity to oversee a team event so it’s a nice way to work through some of the things. There will be some mistakes made this week and a lot of good things going on behind the scenes.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to be around some guys that have a great potential to be in Rome, to get to know them better, and to see how they perform on the golf course.
“There’s nothing like when the gun guys off (seeing) how they perform. We don’t play a lot of match play in general, we don’t play a lot of foursomes, so just seeing how they react, testing out some possible partnerships that might stand the test of time and be in Rome.”
GB&I captain Fleetwood will lead from the front after deciding to join Shane Lowry in Friday’s opening fourballs match against Alex Noren and Thomas Pieters.
The English pair of Tyrrell Hatton and Jordan Smith will take on Belgium’s Thomas Detry and Frenchman Antoine Rozner in match two, with another all-English pair of Callum Shinkwin and Matt Wallace then up against France’s Victor Perez and Italy’s Guido Migliozzi.
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Europe captain Molinari and Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard face Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson and England’s Richard Mansell in match four, with the final contest seeing Ireland’s Seamus Power and Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre up against Austria’s Sepp Straka and Poland’s Adrian Meronk.
“We have a great team but there are no easy matches,” Fleetwood said. “Europe’s a great team as well but I feel very confident in my guys, like we all do.”
Molinari, who partnered Fleetwood to four wins in the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris and also beat Phil Mickelson in the singles, added: “We’ve been saying all week there are two very talented teams and there will be some exciting golf played in the next few days.”