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Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari gear up for 'awkward' British Masters battle

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 11/10/2018 James Corrigan
a man standing on top of a grass covered field: Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari were best of friends during the Ryder Cup - Getty Images Europe © Getty images Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari were best of friends during the Ryder Cup - Getty Images Europe

From the warm shoulder to the cold shoulder; from the pillow talk to the trash talk. Both Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari - AKA “Moliwood” - admit it will be “awkward” to play against the other after their wildly successful Ryder Cup  “bromance” but both are adamant there will be no room for sentiment.

Tommy Fleetwood of England on Day three of the Italian Open © getty Tommy Fleetwood of England on Day three of the Italian Open

It is not just the British Masters title on the line here for the duo, but also the European Tour’s Race To Dubai order of merit prize. Molinari is in first place in the standings with Fleetwood, the defending champion, in second and although there is more than a million points between them that gap can easily be made in the next six weeks.

So from being the best of friends who set a Europe record by winning all four of their matches together at Le Golf National two weeks ago they are now the best of rivals.

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“Tommy has just finished second last week [at the Dunhill Links] and he's in great form so I still need to try and beat him to stay ahead in The Race to Dubai,” Molinari said. “It's funny how things are that of all people, he's the one right behind me. It's going to be a little strange to try and beat each other instead of playing as a team. I might not talk to him and give him a cold shoulder and see how he takes it.”

Tommy Fleetwood tees off on the ninth hole during the second round of the Dell Technologies Championship golf tournament at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018 © getty Tommy Fleetwood tees off on the ninth hole during the second round of the Dell Technologies Championship golf tournament at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018

Molinari was joking, merely responding to the news that Fleetwood had announced he might indulge in some sledging with the man with whom in the hours after the victory he posed in a humorous social media video sharing a bed cradling the Ryder Cup between them. But believe it, Fleetwood is intent to keep the Harry Vardon Trophy he captured at the end of last season.

“Finishing runner-up last week got me closer and trying to retain the title is a big motivation for the remainder of the season” he said. “But it’s still in his hands. It’s a sort of turnaround from 12 months ago when I was leading for most of the year and then Justin Rose won back-to-back to make it really tight. Now I’m the one doing the chasing.

“I need to win at least once in the coming weeks and probably contend once or twice more. But if I can get to Dubai next month with a realistic chance of finishing top, then it will set it all up nicely.”

Rose also has a chance of winning the Race to Dubai and completing the European-American double after winning last month’s FedEx Cup. Rose, the tournament host here, has to be the favourite to prevail in this event on this fine Surrey course although punters should beware as he is not at 100 per cent.

He was forced to cancel his media duties on Wednesday because of a stomach bug. Rose is expected to be fit to tee it up and has the extra incentive of knowing that a top-two placing will see him reclaim the world No 1 spot.

England's Tommy Fleetwood © getty England's Tommy Fleetwood

Another threeball sure to attract attention is that of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn and two of his Le Golf National vice captains in Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington. The atmosphere is sure to be convivial and not just because of the result in Paris.

Westwood announced on Wednesday that he does not want to be considered as a candidate to lead the team at Whistling Straits in 2020 leaving Harrington with an uninterrupted pathway to the role.

The decision will be made in December by a panel including Bjorn and the two previous captains, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke and should be one of the most straightforward appointments in Cup history.

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