PORTRUSH • Francesco Molinari's hopes of winning a second straight British Open were all but over yesterday, but he has backed close friend Tommy Fleetwood to win the Claret Jug today.
Molinari, who formed a formidable partnership with Fleetwood to win the Ryder Cup last year, believes that the Englishman has the qualities to win his first Major.
"It would make a good story for you guys to have the two of us, one (name) next to the other on the Claret Jug," the 36-year-old Italian said after carding a one-over 72 yesterday in the third round at Royal Portrush and going two-over 215 for the tournament.
"He's a friend and I'll cheer him on and hopefully he can get it done today. There is still a long way to go but he's there definitely with a chance. If it's not this week I think it's coming soon.
"The way he plays, he's a very talented player. The way he handles himself, it's just a matter of time.
"I hope for him it will be this week, it will be great to have his name next to mine on the Claret Jug and we can have a big party together."
Fleetwood, 28, was runner-up to Brooks Koepka at the US Open last year and has won four times on the European Tour.
But he may be remembered best by golf fans for his 4-0 record in team play as Europe beat the United States to win last year's Ryder Cup.
On Friday, he started the second round at three-under and lowered that to seven-under with a six-birdie, two-bogey 67 that finished with a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 18.
He was just a shot behind halfway leaders J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry and at press time yesterday, the trio had yet to complete the third round.
Molinari, meanwhile, was unhappy with his display.
"Obviously I would have liked to have a better defence of my title, but I put too much pressure on me.
"It's not easy, obviously you come in with high expectations. You've seen it with Rory (McIlroy) and other guys. Golf is a funny game."
Home favourite McIlroy did not start the weekend but was clearly moved by the support he had received from the gallery in his two rounds.
The Northern Irishman said he was "unbelievably proud" after fighting back to come within a shot of making the cut on Friday.
It was always going to be tough after his disastrous opening 79, but the four-time Major champion rode a wave of emotion that swept across the links, and almost did enough to advance to the weekend with a six-under 65 that matched the best round of the tournament.
"To play in front of those crowds today and to feel that momentum and really dig in, it's going to be a tough one to get over," he said after his two-over 144 score.
"I'll probably rue the finish on Thursday, dropping five shots on the last three holes, but I felt like I gave a good account of myself (in the second round) and I can leave here with my head held high."
NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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