Molinari starts strong at DP World Tour, in position to finish European No. 1

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Molinari starts strong at DP World Tour, in position to finish European No. 1

Euro Tour

Molinari starts strong at DP World Tour, in position to finish European No. 1

Francesco Molinari is just 54 holes from becoming the first Italian to be named European No. 1. The British Open champion is just two shots off the lead in the $8 million DP World Tour Championship, Dubai after an opening 68.

England’s Jordan Smith and Adrian Otaegui of Spain share the lead in the European Tour finale after posting 6-under 66s. Defending champion Jon Rahm sits in third place alongside Danny Willett. Molinari is in fifth place with four other players.

Molinari would be closer to the lead if not for two bogeys in his last four holes. The 35-year-old bogeyed the 15th and 18th after six birdies over the first 11 holes.

“It’s a shame because I putted really well up until the 14th, and then I just misjudged the pace on a couple of those putts and left myself more work to do than I needed to,” Molinari said. “My game was OK, probably not my best, but putting and short game was very good up until the 14th, and that’s how I built the 6-under score to that point.”

Molinari finished a shot ahead of Ryder Cup teammate and playing companion Tommy Fleetwood. The Englishman is the reigning European No. 1, and the only player who can stop Molinari stealing his crown. Fleetwood needs to win this week and hope Molinari finishes outside the top five.

“It’s only Thursday, so there are many things that can happen,” Molinari said. “It’s really too early. I think Tommy and I, we didn’t really hit the ball our best, but we managed to scramble well and put two solid rounds together.”

Fleetwood returned a 3-under 69, and is tied for 10th alongside Rory McIlroy and Masters winner Patrick Reed.

Smith started with a bit of a whimper but finished with a bang. He was level par for his open nine, and still level after 11 holes. However, he played the final six holes by going birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie-par-birdie to move to the top of the leaderboard.

“Something clicked and everything started going in which was nice,” said Smith, who’s looking for his second European Tour win after last year’s Porsche European Open. “Me being 44th in the Race to Dubai, I can go out and go for it, there’s not too much pressure. I can just enjoy the next few days and carry on with the same play that I had today.”

Otaegui didn’t drop a shot in his round, scoring 33 on each nine. He’s chasing his third European Tour victory and second of the season following the Belgian Knockout.

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