Two of Italy’s great sporting institutions played off for one of the country’s most prestigious trophies in football in the Middle East this week.
Now two of their leading golfers are vying to complete an Italian takeaway on golf’s DP World Tour around the fairways of Abu Dhabi this weekend.
Buoyed by an upswing in form, as well as perhaps his beloved Inter Milan’s 3-0 Italian Super Cup win over city rivals AC in Riyadh on Wednesday, Francesco Molinari shone at Yas Links on Friday.
The 2018 British Open champion topped the leaderboard at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after his 5-under-par second-round took him to 10-under for the tournament.
Luke Donald briefly joined him at the head of the field in the afternoon, before fading away. It took till the 18th hole of Guido Migliozzi’s round for Molinari to have some company.
The 25-year-old from Vicenza added a 3-under round of 69 to his opening day 7-under. It means he will play alongside his compatriot in the last match off on Saturday at Yas.
Molinari has shot a brace of 67s so far in the competition, although they were notably different rounds.
His opening effort had come when the wind blew off the Gulf on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, he went off when the conditions were more conducive to scoring in the morning.
“It was the same score as yesterday but very different day,” Molinari said.
“Many more up-and-downs than yesterday. A couple of 3-putts, a couple of mental errors but also lots of good stuff, and a couple of long putts made. So a bit of everything.
“Obviously a very good back nine [playing the front nine second, he came back in 30 shots], which is nice.
“I think where I am at the moment, when you go through a tough patch, it's nice to see I can pick it up again.”
Six missed cuts last year saw Molinari’s world ranking plummet to 208. But a positive display at the Hero Cup at the National Course, 20kms down the E11, last week, plus a fine start at Yas has seen his spirits soar.
So much so, he was even fielding questions about the prospects of an appearance at a home Ryder Cup in Rome later this year.
“It would be incredible,” Molinari, 40, said. “There's many months to go.
“It's obviously nice to start the season this way. I never needed a pick for my three Ryder Cups, so it would be nice not to need a pick again this year.”
Migliozzi closed his second round with three consecutive birdies to secure a Saturday two-ball with the player who was his captain at the Hero Cup last week.
“I was watching the leaderboard and I saw the captain right there on top, Francesco Molinari,” Migliozzi said.
“It will be a great battle over the weekend and if we play together tomorrow, it would be a pleasure.”
Thomas Pieters’ defence of the Falcon Trophy faltered as he failed to make the cut, which was the same fate as befell Patrick Reed, the American former Masters champion.