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Rory McIlroy: I'd love to join forces with Open Champion Molinari in Ryder Cup

 

By Andy Hampson

Rory McIlroy would relish the chance to link up with new Open champion Francesco Molinari at this autumn's Ryder Cup.

Molinari saw off the challenge of some of the greatest names in golf on Sunday to claim his maiden Major title at Carnoustie.

The Italian won by two strokes from a group that included Ulsterman McIlroy - who will savour a home Open at Royal Portrush next year - on a thrilling final day of action in Scotland, lifting himself to the top of the European Ryder Cup standings in the process.

Molinari last appeared in the Ryder Cup in 2012 and McIlroy, Europe's talisman, feels his return to the team in Paris in September would be much welcomed.

McIlroy said: "He's always been a great player but, with how he's played this year, there's just maybe a little more belief. I played with him the final day at Wentworth, where he won, and he didn't miss a shot.

"So there's going to be a lot of European guys vying for his partnership in the foursomes at the Ryder Cup, that's for sure. He's a fantastic golfer and he's a great guy."

Molinari's victory was the culmination of a great run of form that also saw him win the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May and the recent Quicken Loans National in Washington. There have also been two runners-up finishes in the past two months.

McIlroy himself "just ran out of holes" as he finished in a four-way tie for second place alongside Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele.

After a slow start, McIlroy ignited his challenge with an eagle at the par-five 14th but could not gain any further strokes over the final four holes and signed for 70.

"I don't really feel like it's a defeat," said McIlroy, who looked for the positives. "I feel like it's been a good week.

"Only one guy out of 156 is going to win, 155 other guys are going to leave a little disappointed."

McIlroy also revealed that he believes he and his rivals have to learn to deal with a different Tiger Woods after he returned to contending in Majors again.

While the 14-time Major winner is trading comeback stories with good friend Serena Williams, who has 23 Grand Slam singles titles, after their Open and Wimbledon near misses, his contemporaries will be trying to work out what this means for them.

Woods was so close to a fairytale return to The Open after a three-year absence, coming up three short of winner Molinari having led around the turn in his final round.

But the performance at least showed he can contend again after four back operations which threatened to end his career.

"It's not (the) Tiger that Phil (Mickelson) and Ernie (Els) and those guys had to deal with. It's a different version," said World No.8 McIlroy.

"But he's right there. He's getting himself in the mix. He looked good in (Washington) DC a couple weeks back (where he tied fourth at the Quicken Loans National). He's looked good here.

"He does things that maybe he didn't do 10, 15 years ago, but it's still great to have him back. It's still great for golf.

"He's healthy. I wouldn't say we're worried about him, but he's one of those guys that's always in with a shot."

Woods is expecting to hear from Williams, who lost the Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber earlier this month, where they will discuss how their respective comebacks are going.

"Serena and I are good friends. I'm sure she'll probably call me and talk to me about it because you've got to put things in perspective," said the American.

"She just had a baby and lost the Wimbledon finals, so just keep it in perspective, and the same thing with me.

"I know that it's going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I'm at now, I'm blessed."

The consolation prize of finishing in a share of sixth is that he just squeezed into the world's top 50, earning a return to the WGC events, with one of his favourite courses at Firestone Country Club hosting the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron next in a few weeks.

Woods has won eight times on Firestone's South Course, accounting for almost one tenth of all his PGA Tour wins, with his most recent victory in 2013, but he has not played in any WGC events since 2014.

That gives him a further chance to sharpen his game - and improve his world ranking - and last year's Open champion Jordan Spieth believes his compatriot is now far beyond the comeback stage.

"This wasn't a fluke. We've seen that throughout the year," said the 24-year-old, who was also in contention for a large part of the final round at Carnoustie. "He wouldn't tell you, but he's human, and experiencing the pressure that he would have felt leading The Open on a Sunday is no different than anybody else, especially having not experienced it for so long.

"He has good memories to draw on, but that was something he'll come back stronger from."

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