Francesco Molinari stays clear of Tommy Fleetwood in Race to Dubai for Euro Tour crown

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Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood have been (maybe?) the unexpected breakout stars of the European Tour this year. Molinari with his lazy looks and killer iron play, and Fleetwood with his boyish charm and general delight in the whole of life. Fleetwood's coming out party actually took place in 2017 when he won twice, but he sustained his level of both excellence and fame in 2018 and brought Molinari with him.

Molinari won the BMW PGA Championship and The Open at Carnoustie. It is the American equivalent of taking the Players Championship and U.S. Open in the same year. Fleetwood took the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and nearly stole Shinnecock from Brooks Koepka.

Then they combined to go 9-1 at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris with four of those victories coming while paired together over the first few days. And now, of course because this is the year of Molliwood, they are the only two golfers who can still win the Race to Dubai, the European Tour's version of the FedEx Cup.

For Molinari, all he has to do is finish fifth or better at this week's DP World Tour Championship to guarantee his place among former winners of the order of merit (or Race to Dubai) in Europe. Names like Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and, well, Fleetwood, who took the title last year.

To repeat, Fleetwood must win and see Molinari finish fifth or worse. The Englishman shot a 3-under 69 and sits three strokes behind Jordan Smith and Adrian Otaegui after 18 holes in Dubai. Molinari finished at 4 under (with two bogeys in his last four holes) and clearly has the upper hand. Rory McIlroy, Haotong Li, Thomas Pieters, Danny Willett, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed and Alex Noren are all also in the top 10.

"It was still fun," Molinari said about the Molliwood pairing at Jumeirah Golf Estates. "It's only Thursday, so there's so many things that can happen. It's really too early. We had fun. I think both of us, we didn't really hit the ball maybe our best, but we managed to scramble well and get two solid rounds together."

"It's great," Fleetwood said. "We don't get in each other's way. I think the great thing about being so close and friends, you have such a good understanding of each other's personality and when it's time to talk or when it's not time to talk, or there's no weird feelings out there or no sort of uneasy moments because you know each other so well. 

"It was a pleasure being out with him today, and he was doing great. He put a great score together until a couple at the end. It's always great being out with a friend."

For the third consecutive season, we could see a golfer who doesn't win the World Tour Championship win the overall Race to Dubai. In fact, the odds are that we probably will. Even if Molinari finishes outside the top five, Fleetwood's chances of winning this event with this leaderboard are slim, even with how well he's played all season. Molinari is trying to not think about a capper to his season and the over $1 million bonus prize that goes along with the year-end title.

"I was trying not to think of that sort of stuff," Molinari said after his 68. "I did a good job today to just think about shot by shot and hitting fairways, hitting greens, try to get the ball up and down when I miss greens, and that's what I need to do. I don't think there's any benefit in starting to think about what could happen ... it's just too early."

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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