Major champion Francesco Molinari still bears scars of his Masters meltdown at Augusta
- Molinari won the season-long Race to Dubai title on the European Tour in 2018
- The Italian led 2019 Masters until he found the water at both the 12th and 15th
- Tiger Woods went on to win his first major championship for 11 years
The best golfer of last year says he needs to wait until the end of the season ‘when I’m in a calmer mood’ to work out why this campaign has not gone to plan. But the truth is, Francesco Molinari already knows the answer.
For the wider sporting world, that fateful final day at Augusta National in April has entered folklore as the one that gave us the Masters miracle. For the personable Italian, it was the Masters meltdown.
Now, Molinari has admitted the blow his confidence took following his collapse over the back nine, where he found the water at the 12th and 15th to let in Tiger Woods.
Francesco Molinari is struggling to rediscover the form which claimed the 2018 Open title
‘People told me it would be hard to beat last year, nearly impossible in fact, but until that day at the Masters I picked it up where I left off, and then it stopped,’ said Molinari. ‘Confidence plays a big part in any sport but particularly in golf.
‘I was feeling good coming to Augusta, everything was going my way. After that, it became many little things that I didn’t do quite as well. My ball striking wasn’t as good and I didn’t putt as well. For over a year, it felt like I was pushing a boulder going upwards but then it started going the other way and it has been hard to stop it.’
Molinari’s results underline his candid assessment in stark detail. In the 10 months leading up to the Masters, he won four times worldwide and became the only European to win five points out of five at the Ryder Cup. He drove down Magnolia Lane having claimed the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a brilliant final round 64, and followed it by reaching the semi-finals of the WGC-Match Play.
Molinari found the water at the 12th and 15th holes to let in Tiger Woods at the Masters in April
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‘Over the last 25 years we’ve done a lot to try to kill golf. We’ve made it too hard, too expensive and it takes too long to play. The one thing we haven’t done is make it too much fun.’
Full marks for home truths goes to Seth Waugh, recently appointed CEO of the PGA of America. What he didn’t point out, though, was the contribution his organisation has made to difficulties and the woeful decision to move the PGA Championship from August to May, leaving the second half of the year without a major as a focal point.
‘The Machine,’ as he is often known, was purring as he took the lead heading into the final round of the Masters. He was poised to become the first golfer since Tiger in 2001 to hold the Claret Jug and the green jacket at the same time. With the ending of that dream, as he says, everything changed. In the 13 events since, Molinari has not mustered a single top-10 finish to fall from sixth in the world to 12th.
One change he has already decided upon ahead of his review is to employ Justin Rose’s old caddie Mark ‘Fooch’ Fulcher, who had to take a year off owing to heart problems but will be restored to full health by January.
Together with an English coach (Denis Pugh), putting guru (Phil Kenyon) and psychologist (Dave Alred), it completes the set for the ardent Anglophile, a long-time London resident.
‘I spoke to my caddie Pello (Iguaran) after the Italian Open last month and we both agreed we needed a change,’ said Molinari.
‘I called Fooch to see if he was healthy. He achieved pretty much everything with Justin and I always admired the way they worked. He’s a strong personality, so hopefully he will add to my confidence.’
You fancy the off season is coming at just the right time for the driven 36-year-old from Turin. While the rest of the game looks back this December and reflects on that magical afternoon in Georgia, Molinari will be cleansing the mind and learning to forget.
Bernd Wiesberger is on course to be the first Austrian to represent Europe at the Ryder Cup
Wide variety of options for captain Harrington
Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington’s early assessment of his team for next year is that it will be composed of players from a great variety of nations, and it is easy to see why.
There is a distinct possibility we will see the first Austrian (Bernd Wiesberger and/or Matthias Schwab) to play in the Ryder Cup, and perhaps the first Norwegian (Viktor Hovland) as well.
‘I’d expect players from all over mainland Europe, both from the north and south to make it,’ said the Dubliner. ‘It won’t be just a GB & Ireland side.’
But I would be surprised if it doesn’t end up like the last few, with GB & Ireland players to the fore, and particularly those from England. As Tyrrell Hatton’s victory in Turkey on Sunday demonstrated, they are going to be hard to shift.
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