European Tour

Schwab impresses Ryder Cup captain en-route to first round lead in Turkey

By Joy Chakravarty
Matthias Schwab, a rising star of European golf, refused to get drawn into a Ryder Cup conversation after being paired with captain Padraig Harrington and outscoring the three-time major championship by 10 shots to take the opening round honours at the Turkish Airlines Open.

Schwab, who was impressive in finishing tied fourth in his maiden WGC appearance last week at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, was birdie-hunting once again at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal course as he shot a seven-under-par 65 with an eagle and six birdies to tie for the lead with England’s Tom Lewis.

The 25-year-old Austrian turned professional in 2017 and secured his card on the European Tour after his debut season on the Challenge Tour. In 2017-18, he easily retained his playing privilege by finishing 72nd in the Race to Dubai with four top-10s, but has forced everyone to sit up and take notice of his immense talent this season.

The Rohrmoos resident is on a hot streak. He was tied second at the Porsche European Open after two straight top-10 finishes and was tied fourth at the Italian Open last month. He is now up to 18th in the Race to Dubai and having started 2018 ranked 572nd in the world, he has leapt to No.102 after the HSBC Champions.

Harrington, who will be leading the European Ryder Cup team when the tournament is played next year at Whistling Straits, had said earlier that he wants to be paired with young European players in the lead-up to the biennial showdown with the United States to get a better understanding of the inventory of players he could call upon.

On Thursday, the two were paired alongside Frenchman Victor Perez, winner of this year’s Dunhill Links Championship. Following the round, Schwab was asked the inevitable question about the Ryder Cup.

“Obviously, I thought about it because he’s the next captain. But that’s about it,” said Schwab. “It’s obviously nice, but still, I mean, I’m not really making too much of that. It’s always nice to play with a major champion, someone who has achieved as much as he has, but other than that, I’m just trying to play as well as I can.”

And even though Schwab may not be trying to impress Harrington, the Irishman, who had a horror quintuple-bogey 10 on a par five before recovering to finish at three-over, loved what he saw.

“Matthias played very well…and I assume he would have been under a bit of pressure too. It was a good sign and he is certainly very able to play the game, that’s for sure,” said Harrington.

“There are plenty of young guys out there fighting and it’s hard for them to set themselves apart, but Victor and Matthias are certainly doing that. I am bound to have two or three rookies at least in the team next year, so we will see how it progresses over the next year.”

Harrington was also asked if he liked putting pressure on the younger players.

“That’s not my plan at all but I find it interesting,” he added. “I quite enjoy being in that position to see how they react. I am not there to test them though, I am just there to go out and play with them and get to know them.

“At the end of the day, if these guys play their way into the team, it’s irrelevant what I think. But if there is experience automatically in the team you are going to be picking rookies and if there are rookies in automatically then you are picking experience. They just need to play golf and let their clubs do the talking. That’s always the best way.”

Sweden’s Alex Noren, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters and American David Lipsky started with rounds of 66 each to be tied third.

Two-time defending champion Justin Rose scripted a rousing finish, turning an average round into a superb five-under par 67 with a hat-trick of birdies from the 16th onwards. He was joined at tied sixth place by the reigning BMW PGA champion Danny Willett of England, Netherland’s Joost Luiten, Belgium’s Thomas Detry, Scot Scott Jamieson and Frenchman Benjamin Hebert.

Rose said he was delighted with his score, especially after how poorly he hit the ball during the pro-am on Wednesday.

“I guess job done. The hot finish was exactly what we needed. I was aware of the leaderboard. Obviously, it was a perfect day to play golf as it normally is here in Turkey and I could see the lads got in low,” said the world No8, the highest-ranked player in the field.

“It’s a 100 percent improvement from yesterday. I was happy I got off to a good start today and I felt positive that I was actually swinging the club much better. I feel like I’m not exactly where I need to be, but I did a good job switching from range to scoring today.”


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