Charles Schwab Challenge

Colonial Country Club

DP World Tour

There are timely wins, and then there’s what this Ryder Cup hopeful pulled off at the Italian Open

May 07, 2023

Andrew Redington

The collection continues. Already Irish Open and Australian Open champion, Adrian Meronk added the Italian Open to his growing cluster of national titles with victory Sunday at the Marco Simone Country Club just outside Rome. The big-hitting Pole’s 13-under-par 275 aggregate over the course that will host the 44th Ryder Cup matches in September was one shot better than runner-up Romain Langasque. Another Frenchman, Julien Guerrier, was third on 10 under.

The basis for Meronk’s victory—his third on the DP World Tour —and his closing round of 69 was a front-nine filled with narrow escapes. A chip-in at the second for par was closely followed by a precarious birdie at the drivable par-4 fifth, where the eventual champion’s tee shot finished inches from the water hazard left of the putting surface. Three holes later, a lengthy putt for par disappeared into the cup on the difficult par-4 eighth. Things were definitely going the 29-year old’s way as a birdie on the par-5 ninth gave him a one-stroke edge over Langasque.

Meronk continued on his mildly erratic way on the back nine. Yet, illustrating the potential match-play nuances of the course, his stuttering progress was mirrored by his closest challengers. Langasque was ultimately undone by three dropped shots in four holes from the 13th, although his chip-in birdie on the 17th brought with it late hope of victory that was eventually dashed by a wild tee-shot off the 18th tee. And Guerrier, albeit the steadiest of the trio, made his last birdie on the 12th.

As it turned out, the champion’s even par inward half, three birdies, three pars, three bogeys, was good enough, the curling 20-foot putt he made for par on the penultimate green the true clinching moment. Still, Meronk’s two-putt birdie on the par-5 18th turned out to be required as Langasque made a long putt for one last birdie, albeit the overall result was already settled.

“It is such a relief,” Meronk said. “This was a tough day. I didn’t play as well as previous days off the tee. So I had to scramble a little bit. But I’m super-happy to come out on top. And very proud of myself. The putt on 17 was huge. I left myself an almost impossible chip so I was just trying to get it as close as possible. And holing the putt was such a big moment going to 18.”

Inevitable the Ryder Cup came up, too.

“Winning today is a solid statement,” Meronk said. “It is a brick into the wall, but it is far from over, I know that. But I’m excited. Making the team is one of my big goals this year. It would mean a lot to me, and I’ll keep pushing. Today helps a little bit.”

The victory jumped Meronk to fifth on the European points list, with the top three earning automatic spots on Luke Donald’s European squad. And even if he weren’t to qualifying automatically, a win on the course that’s hosting the Ryder Cup would seem like an intangible that Donald wouldn’t ignore in making his captain’s picks.

Lower on the leaderboard, for those harboring even outside chances of making their own Ryder Cup debuts come September, the four rounds produced a mixed bag, success and relative failure in almost equal measure. Defending champion Robert MacIntyre surely left most disappointed. The left-handed Scot, whose World Ranking has slumped over the last 18 months or so, withdrew citing a back strain following a mediocre opening-round 73. Denmark’s Rasmus Højgaard did make the halfway cut, but a 47th-place finish was a poor return for one so talented. Likewise, home player Guido Migliozzi did little to attract Donald’s attention. The Italian broke par only once and finished in a distant 57th place, well off the Ryder Cup radar.

On the other hand, Rasmus’ identical twin, Nicolai, 2020 champion here, confirmed his liking for the course with a T-5 finish highlighted by a closing 65. France’s Victor Perez also did himself no harm with a solid T-9 finish highlighted by three rounds in the high 60s. Spain’s Jorge Campillo, winner of the recent Magical Kenya Open, recorded his fifth top-10 in succession when he pulled up in a tie for seventh. And, perhaps not incidentally, Eddie Pepperell finished in an encouraging tie for ninth in what was the Englishman’s first competitive appearance in three months.

Elsewhere, and less importantly for European prospects come September, Donald and his three vice captains, Nicolas Colsaerts, Edoardo Molinari and Thomas Bjorn, all failed to make it through to the weekend in a playing sense. But Donald was still making positive noises about a visit he called, “busy and productive.”

“I think the green staff here have done an amazing job with the condition of the course and trying to get it in a place that will be quite similar to the Ryder Cup in five months time,” said the Englishman. “We always like to have a little bit of rough when we get to play the Ryder Cup in Europe. I also had a nice dinner with the vice captains, where we did a lot of work behind the scenes. We will look at the statistics at the end of the week and look how everyone played, how the course played, and whether we need to make any tweaks. But if there are changes, they would be pretty minor I think.”

Less encouraging from a European point of view is the lingering thought that this week is likely to be typical going forward on much of the DP World Tour. Already, huge periods of the Old World circuit are marked by the absence of the biggest names like Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick, Victor Hovland, Shane Lowry, Just Rose, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, a situation that is unlikely to improve with the innovation of the PGA Tour’s “designated” events.

So it was that, with just about every star player otherwise occupied at Quail Hollow and the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship, Meronk at 63rd was the highest-ranked member of this generally undistinguished Italian Open field. Only nine others in the top-100 (eight of those 87th or lower) were present. All of which only adds to the speculation on what the DP World Tour board might announce with its schedule for 2024 and how the strategic alliance between the two circuits will, in the end, come to benefit the tour on this side of the Atlantic.