Winner Thorbjorn Olesen wasn’t the only man happy with his week’s work at the Italian Open. The second tournament on the European Tour’s Rolex Series saw several past major champions emerge from frustrating 2018 seasons to find themselves in the hunt at Gardagolf Country Club. Specifically, Danny Willett, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell, three men who had struggled lately, all finished in the top 10.
McDowell was the one who best lasted the pace. Less than two weeks after being “written off as far as playing in the Ryder Cup is concerned,” McDowell followed up his T-12 at Wentworth with a T-5 finish on 17 under. At 38, McDowell is easily the youngest of European skipper Thomas Bjorn’s assistants and, quite clearly, well capable of assuming a playing role come September.
“Psychologically, [I] felt like I was protecting something yesterday,” said McDowell, referring to his relatively disappointing third round 71. “It was ‘last group-itis,’ a position I haven’t been in for a while. My putter let me down, especially on the back nine. And bogey on the last was disappointing. Today, I played with a lot more freedom. The last two weeks have given me a lot of confidence. I took a lot of inspiration from being involved in the Ryder Cup. I like the way I’m playing. And I’m happy with my score. But 17 under was always going to be at least a couple of shots too many.”
Make that five.
After injuring his wrist early in the year, forcing him to sit out nearly two months, Kaymer shot a second-round 63 in Italy en route to a T-8 showing, his best of the 2018 season.
“It’s been a while since I played that solid,” Kaymer said after his Friday round. “I think I was getting very close recently, but that positivity was missing on the golf course because I haven’t had a lot of good results.”
Meanwhile, the week might have been most encouraging for Willett. After an opening 65, the 2016 Masters champ wasn’t afraid to make a joke at his own expense.
Indeed, it was the lowest opening round for Willett in a European Tour event since the 2015 Omega European Masters.
He backed it up with rounds of 67-67-69, the first time with four rounds in the 60s since the 2016 Italian Open), to finish T-8, just his second cut made in 2018 and his best showing since a T-5 at the 2017 Maybank Championship.