Augusta - British Open champion Francesco Molinari has his sights set on a
green jacket this week, 13 years after he first toured Augusta National
in a caddie's white overall.
Back in 2006, Molinari was carrying the bags for his brother Edoardo,
who had qualified as the previous year's US Amateur champion.
Then Molinari said, he "carried the clubs and prayed that (Edoardo)
was going to hit good shots" as he played the first two rounds alongside
defending Masters champion Tiger Woods.
"We were very inexperienced at this level and just trying to make the most of those two days."
This year Molinari arrives with a major title on his resume -- with
his triumph at Carnoustie followed by a victory in the European Tour's
flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and his first US PGA Tour
title at the National.
He won the European Tour's Race to Dubai and cemented his star status
with a perfect 5-0 performance in Europe's Ryder Cup triumph over the
While his best finish in seven prior starts at Augusta National was a
tie for 19th in 2012, Molinari's buildup to his eighth Masters
appearance included the greatest putting performance of his career in a
final-round 64 to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March.
"I think what let me down in the past obviously it's on the greens
and around the greens, it's a very tough test because of the speed of
the greens and the undulation," he said. "So, yeah, I hope to show the
progress that I've made on the greens and around the greens in the last
few months, and get a good performance in this week."
While his surge into golf's elite ranks seems sudden, Molinari says
it's the product of years of work -- to which he dedicated himself after
a moment of truth at the 2014 Open Championship.
Playing alongside Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson in the final group
on Saturday, Molinari said, he realized that against those big hitters
"I just didn't have a chance".
"That was a big turning point for me," he said. "I took it like, if I
want to keep doing this job and do it at a high level, I need to work
as hard as I can and see if I can get closer to those guys.
"Now when I go out, play with Brooks or Dustin or Rory or whoever you
can name, and I'm not really intimidated, because I feel like I can
compete with them, even if I'm not hitting the ball 370 yards.
"I'm hitting it long enough to be competitive and to use my strengths to get good performances in."
Having put in the years of work and finally reaped the rewards, the 36-year-old is keen to keep the momentum going.
"I'm not a spring chicken anymore, so I need to make the most of it."