Francesco Molinari is hoping to feed off the energy of the crowds this week as the Italian returns to defend his BMW PGA Championship title in the fourth Rolex Series event of the 2019 Race to Dubai at Wentworth Club.
“This week has always been special to me, even before last year, but obviously last year made it extra, extra special.”
The 36 year old overcame Rory McIlroy down the stretch in nerveless fashion last year, kicking off a career-defining run of form which included his Open Championship triumph at Carnoustie, a record-breaking Ryder Cup performance and the title of European Tour Number One.
“Obviously I’ve got beautiful memories from last year. The duel with Rory on Sunday, and finally getting my hands on the trophy, it obviously gave me a lot of confidence for the coming months after that.
“I was watching a video yesterday of the last few holes on Sunday, and you could see I was uncomfortable in that position. I think that was the first step forward to getting more comfortable in leading a tournament and closing it out.”
Molinari leads one of the strongest fields in the tournament’s long history, joined among others by the man who succeeded him as Open Champion in July, Shane Lowry. The Irishman was honoured by the European Tour for his achievement at Royal Portrush two months ago, following Molinari onto the esteemed list of life honorary members.
“It’s (European Tour honorary life membership) pretty cool, isn’t it. You start playing golf when you’re a kid and you don’t know how good you can be, even when you started playing as a pro. I didn’t know that I would get to this day but it’s pretty cool.
“I’ve joined a nice list of names, which is pretty good. Obviously, my heart lies with the European Tour – I’ll always be a member. I love coming back and I love playing in events like this. It’s an extreme privilege.”
“I love it here. I think this is one of my favourite events in the world. Every time I come here, the area around Wentworth – Ascot, Sunningdale – it’s just a lovely place to be. The golf course, I’ve always really liked. Even when they made the changes first back in 2010, I actually really liked it and I just thought it was quite a difficult golf course and I just loved it. It’s one of my favourite events of the year and I just love coming back.
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Billy Horschel and Patrick Reed, meanwhile, are among the American stars playing the BMW PGA Championship for the first time this week after the date change from May to September allowed them to fit the prestigious tournament into their schedules. Both European Tour Members, they are relishing the opportunity to play the famous West Course for the first time.
“It’s amazing here,” said Reed. “I thought the golf course was a lot of fun. I thought it was challenging in parts. It’s one of these golf courses you have to work the ball both ways. You’ve got the greens that are very firm, very fast, yet you have fairways that are a little softer, so you hit tee shots and the ball doesn’t quite go as far and the iron shots seem to have a lot of bounce in them.
“It’s going to be a premium this week on hitting fairways and playing from the right spots because you can put yourself in some bad spots here on these greens.”