Race to Dubai Champion Francesco Molinari has enjoyed the greatest year of his career since last season’s Masters Tournament and is confident his hard work can finally pay off at Augusta National Golf Club.
“It’s taken a while, but now success is coming quite often and that’s a nice feeling. I’ll try to keep working to keep the success coming and win as many tournaments as I can. I’m not a spring chicken anymore, so I need to make the most of it.”
The Italian has just one top 20 finish in seven playing appearances at the year’s first Major Championship but admits he comes down Magnolia Lane a very different golfer to the one he was 12 months ago, and is mindful of the role he and his recent success play in inspiring the next generation of Italian players.
The 36 year old sealed a maiden Major at The Open Championship and a first Rolex Series event at the BMW PGA Championship on the way to being crowned European Number One in 2018, as well as becoming the first European to win five points at a Ryder Cup at Le Golf National last September. He has also won his first two events in America since last April.
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“Clearly, I’m in a much different position to where I was coming in the last few years. I don’t want to deny that, or I can’t deny that. I feel good about my game.
“Fortunately, I had the role model of Constantino Rocca who was playing Ryder Cups and doing well in Majors. That gives you hope that it’s doable, even if you come from a small golfing country like Italy was at the time.
“Now the situation is a lot better. I’m helping a little bit with getting golf in the news and hopefully kids will see more and more about me and about golf in general and pick up the game, and there’s going to be more Italians in the future.”
Amongst the 40 European Tour members in the field this week is defending champion Patrick Reed, who admits he is not ready to give back his Green Jacket yet. Like Molinari, the American earned his maiden Major title last season, and went on to finish just behind the Italian in the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex.
“It’s been amazing,” said Reed. “Having the jacket always around, traveling with it, and allowing other people to see it was definitely a treat.
“Now actually having the win, I know what I need to do in order to compete and have a chance on Sunday. But knowing that I have to get the jacket back at the end of the week, it makes me more hungry and more motivated to keep the jacket, to continue playing well and try to win another one.
“I position the jacket everywhere I go, so every time I wake up, I see it, and every time I come home and go to bed, I see it. I use it more as motivation.”
Meanwhile Jon Rahm is eager to continue the illustrious Spanish tradition at Augusta National when he tees it up at The Masters for the third time. The 24 year old had been a professional less than 12 months when he finished in the top 30 in 2017, as countryman Sergio Garcia won the Green Jacket on what would have been the 60th birthday of the great Seve Ballesteros.
“Two of the three (previous Spanish winners) are from northern Spain,” said Rahm, “so I would say we have some similarities in that sense, and it’s a special year, too. It’s Olazábal’s 25th anniversary since his first win and 20th anniversary since his second win. It’s something to remember.
“Two years ago, it would have been Seve’s birthday that Sunday. Pretty much every time we play, there’s going to be something very special going on at Augusta National for all of us.
“It would be something beautiful to join that list. Those are three world‑class players and three of the best players Europe has ever seen and three of the best players the world has ever seen, so it would be incredible to join my name to them.”
He will tee it up alongside a resurgent Tiger Woods in the opening two rounds, with the four-time Masters winner admitting he no longer ‘needs’ to win the title again – although he very much wants to.
“I feel like I can win. I’ve proven that I can do it and I put myself there with a chance to win the last two Major Championships of the year last year. I was right there and just needed to have a couple more things to go my way and not throw away a couple shots here and there, which I was able to do at East Lake.
“I just feel like that I’ve improved a lot over the past 12, 14 months, but I’ve more than anything just proven to myself that I can play at this level again. I’ve worked my way back into one of the players that can win events.
“I don’t really need to win again (at Augusta National). I really want to.”