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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: Luke Donald needs three or four players to emerge from this week’s Hero Cup, and he’s spoiled for choice

Luke Donald will have his eyes on several young players at this week's Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi.
Luke Donald will have his eyes on several young players at this week's Hero Cup in Abu Dhabi.

The Hero Cup – formerly known as the Seve Trophy – really launches Ryder Cup year in the first full week of the DP World Tour schedule for 2023.

I’m not sure if it was Team Europe captain Luke Donald’s decision to refloat the matches between the pros of Great Britain and Ireland and the Continent of Europe. But it’s certainly a necessary move.

After the rout at Whistling Straits, the European team was likely to be in a state of transition for this year’s matches in Rome. The effects of LIV defections have slightly accelerated that, but not changed it.

The Seve Trophy was invaluable in the past

There’s been some revisionism about how zealously Europe’s best had attended the Seve Trophy in the past. Had they been eligible it’s highly unlikely we’d have seen Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and other players now on the Saudi-funded circuit this week.

Previously, despite not often getting a full raft of top names, the Seve Trophy – the name can’t now be used because of legal disputes – worked out reasonably well as a way to get a fuller picture of eligible players.

Speaking to Colin Montgomerie the other week, he said that ‘his’ version when European captain (called the Vivendi Trophy then) in 2009 was invaluable to him.

Looking back, six of the 20 players competing at St-Nom-la-Breteche that year ended up making the 12-man team at Celtic Manor.

For the record they were Miguel Angel Jimenez, Rory McIlroy, Ross Fisher, Graeme McDowell, Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari.

That’s roughly what Donald’s looking for from this week. He has the foundation group of McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood.

That’s seven guys who, given the vagaries of form, you’d imagine can be expected to qualify or get one of Donald’s six-hand of wildcards. Hatton, Lowry and Fleetwood are the three players out of this seven playing this week.

One you’d expect to through is Sweden’s Alex Noren, who had a solid 2022 and begins 2023 well-placed fifth on both the European and World points qualification lists.

Noren, of course, is already blooded from Paris four years ago and is known as a quality matchplayer.

What would also really help Donald is a resurgence from Francesco Molinari. The Italian is captaining the Continent of Europe team this week and showed decent signs of a a return to form that late last year.

Some really good young talent

Add Noren and Molinari, then Donald just needs three rookies. And looking down the list of players this week, he’s spoiled for choice, I think.

Rasmus Hojgaard’s withdrawal – replaced on Monday by brother Nicolai – is unfortunate. But there’s plenty of young quality there to pick from.

I’d say the two frontrunners right now are Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre – after his DS Automobiles Italian Open win on the host course last autumn – and Ireland’s emerging Seamus Power.

But you could easily live with Austria’s Sepp Straka, Poland’s Adrian Meronk, Guido Migilozzi of Italy, Tom Detry or Thomas Pieters of Belgium, either of the Hojgaards or France’s Victor Perez.

I wouldn’t expect Bob and fellow Scot Ewen Ferguson to be paired together this week, although they’ve been jokingly agitating for it on social media. The European team template usually has rookies “puppy-walked” by veterans.

Like the Seve Trophys of the past, I doubt we’re going to get many thrills at Abu Dhabi GC this week. But It’s going to be an interesting way to start the season for the Ryder Cup nerds.

And aren’t we all one of those?

No back-door into the Ryder Cup for LIVers

There continues to be a little murmuring for LIV players getting into the Ryder Cup.

Matt Fitzpatrick last week volunteered to room-share with Sergio Garcia to get him on the team. John Rahm has advocated his fellow Spaniard’s inclusion as well recently.

This despite Garcia’s classless departure from the BMW PGA Championship last September. It seems that some still forgive the man-child for any malfeasance he commits.

But it would be completely untenable for Europe to pick LIV players when the US team couldn’t or wouldn’t. And there’s no prospect of that happening whilst the current legal battles grind on.

It won’t matter whether Greg Norman is sidelined – it’s not him driving the legal actions, it’s the Saudis, as initial court hearings have shown.

Neither will it matter if the LIV players get ongoing approval to play on the DP World Tour at the hearing due for next month.

They likely won’t have enough events to qualify off either list with their LIV commitments. And anyway, Donald surely won’t (or won’t be allowed to) use a wildcard for them.

Collin Morikawa’s collapse

What to make of Collin Morikawa’s epic collapse in the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions? 

The former Open champion did seem a little traumatised by his surrendering of a six-shot lead to a fast-finishing Rahm. He really shouldn’t be.

It was a smaller field than a LIV event. It’s a pleasant way to start the year. But even as the first of the tour’s new ‘elevated’ events, it’s not much cop.

I always thought one of Morikawa’s greatest attributes was his confidence and self-reliance.

Remember when he won at The Open, he’d changed irons and alignments from the previous week at the Scottish Open.

He didn’t need an entourage or a phalanx of equipment staff gurus to enact the change. He just did it himself on the range, and then went out and won the Claret Jug.

A quieter 2022 – relatively at least – has him apparently searching for answers. The obvious one is that this infuriating game doesn’t ever let you make it look that easy for too long.