Francesco Molinari admits he has achieved his golfing dreams by winning the Open and performing Ryder Cup heroics, but remains hungry for more success.
Molinari became the first Italian player to win a major when he claimed the Open Championship at Carnoustie last year, which followed victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and a maiden PGA Tour title in the Quicken Loans National.
The 36-year-old then became the first European player to compile a perfect 5-0 record in the Ryder Cup victory at Le Golf National, having already teamed up with Tommy Fleetwood to become the first European pair to win all four of their matches together.
Molinari ended 2018 by winning the European Tour’s Race to Dubai for the first time and has carried on where he left off in 2019, with victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and third place in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
“To be honest, I’ve achieved my dream, that was winning the Open last year,” Molinari said in a teleconference to promote his Open title defence at Royal Portrush in July. “I’ve achieved another dream that was to be one of the best players of the Ryder Cup and help Europe win the trophy back.
“So I think I’m at a stage where I’ve achieved my dreams and whatever comes now is going to be a bonus. I still have a lot of desire and I want to win more. I got a taste of it last year and it was great.
“For me winning is a huge motivation and spurs me on to do even more, and that’s what I’ve done this winter, working as hard as I have ever done. And I think you can see the way I’m playing that I didn’t settle, I didn’t stop.
“The dream is to keep improving. I feel like I haven’t reached my limit yet. The dream is to see how far I can go and hopefully get as many wins as possible along the way.”
While Portrush has not staged the Open itself since 1951, Molinari does have experience of the course – apart from the two new holes – after playing there in the 2012 Irish Open.
“I remember playing there the year after Darren (Clarke) had won the Open Championship and being paired with Darren the first round,” Molinari added.
“It was something I still remember, so I can only imagine what the Open is going to be; it is going to be even bigger, obviously, going back to Northern Ireland after so many years. Defending is always special, but defending in a place where the tournament has not been for so long I’m sure is going to be extra special.
“I’ve planned for a couple of weeks off before to try and prepare as good as I can and show up there giving me the best chance possible. Being a competitor, I want to do well.
“No matter how it goes, it might be the only time in my career that I get to defend a major title, you never know. So, I need to make the most of it and enjoy the reception I get from the crowd and just, yeah, you know, let it sink in even more.”
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PGA Tour players have voted to maintain the format which could see Tiger Woods take on Rory McIlroy in the last 16 of this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Woods and McIlroy will meet in the knockout stages if they can progress from their respective groups at Austin Country Club, with Woods up against Aaron Wise, Patrick Cantlay and Brandt Snedeker and McIlroy facing Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Harding and Luke List.
The group stage was introduced in 2015 and ensured star players would be in action for at least three days rather than potentially crashing out on Wednesday morning, but the tournament sponsors had proposed doubling the group-stage qualifiers to 32 before 36 holes of stroke-play competition over the weekend.
Woods told reporters: “This format is a little different for me, a new event, a new format. But it’s not really complicated – play well and take care of the bloke in front of you.”
According to a memo sent to players, the Tour’s Player Advisory Council (PAC) “was not supportive of the proposed format change”, but will continue to discuss alternative options.
“There’s really only two formats,” PAC member Paul Casey told Golf Channel. “If you want to introduce stroke play then you make it as it is in a lot of amateur match-play events and have a stroke-play qualifier and then a match-play knockout.
“Or go straight knockout, 64 guys. To me, that’s my thought on it and the vast majority of players seem to think that way.”
One suggestion is to use a nine-hole loop at Austin Country Club which runs alongside the Colorado River and provides the most scenic views.
“Maybe you have a stroke-play qualifier and get down to 16 or 32 guys and then you use a nine-hole loop,” added Casey, who faces Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, Australian Cameron Smith and American Charles Howell in Group 10.
“You’d play 18 holes, but those big structures that you only see on a Saturday or a Sunday for 20 minutes and then it’s gone, you’d loop around a couple of times. There’s some outside the box thinking going on, which I quite like.”
Woods has won the Match Play title three times but has not appeared in the event since losing to Howell in 2013, one of three first-round defeats he suffered under the old format.
McIlroy lifted the trophy in 2015 and reached the semi-finals the following year, but has failed to advance beyond the group stages since.
However, the four-time major winner comes into the week buoyed by his win in the Players Championship at Sawgrass as he continues his build-up to the Masters at Augusta National, where victory would make him only the sixth player to complete a career grand slam.
McIlroy has not thought too much about returning to the top of the world.
He told the Telegraph: “No, not really (when asked if it was a big thing). The big thing is winning my match tomorrow. That’s the first step in the process and if I win seven matches this week, then awesome.
“But, again, winning tournaments, getting No 1, all those accolades, it’s a by-product of doing all the little things right. Step by step they will add up to all that stuff that other people find important.”
Robin Roussel did not produce his best golf in the final round but managed to battle hard and hang on and also take advantage of his rival’s mistakes to win the Troon Series – Royal Golf Bahrain Open on Wednesday.
At the Royal Golf Club in Manama, the Frenchman made a bogey on his final hole but a one-over 73 round was good enough for a one-shot victory at 12-under par total.
England’s Joshua Grenville-Wood made a stunning par after hitting his tee shot into the water but paid a heavy price of three-putting the 16th hole for a bogey, which gave Roussel the leeway. He finished tied for second place at 11-under par 205 alongside compatriot James Allan (68), who made four birdies over his back nine to move up the leaderboard.
In the amateur category, Dubai-based 14-year-old Josh Hill shot a one-under par 71 despite being under the weather and tied with Curtis Knipes (69) for the leading amateur at three-under par 213. Another Dubai-based player, India’s Arkesh Bhatia (71), was third at two-under par total.
Roussel, who opened with rounds of 65 and 66 and rarely struggled on the demanding course, courted trouble several times during his final round. He started with an early double bogey on the second hole and even though birdies on the fourth, ninth and 12th got him back to red numbers, he had to knuckle down and make a courageous par on the par-5 13th and then made bogey on the par-5 14th – two holes that he birdied in the second round.
Grenville-Wood started with a three-putt bogey from the fringe on the opening hole, but played solid golf thereafter and kept chipping at Roussel’s lead until his second three-putt bogey of the day on the 16th.
He had pulled to within one shot, but the mistake on the closing stretch gave his opponent some breathing space.
It turned out that Roussel needed that advantage of two shots. On the 18th hole, Grenville-Wood pushed his tee shot into the water, and then went on to make a superb par from there. On the other hand, Roussel made a bogey and scraped through by one shot.
“I am delighted that I have won. It is a great way to start the year for me, but the round also kind of brought me back to earth,” said the 25-year-old Parisian, who recorded his first win as a professional in a recognised MENA Tour event.
“I thought I was playing some good golf over these past few weeks and I had that feeling this morning on the range as well. But the moment I faced pressure, I made several mistakes. I did not make the putts I should have made and I did not hit the ball well.”
Grenville-Wood was delighted with his effort. “I think I played great. I am ecstatic. I did not expect this at all. Going into the week, I just wanted to make the cut and play some good golf,” said the 20-year-old from south London.
“The bogey on the 16th will hurt because it was such a short putt and I have putted well all week. But if you ask me which was the key hole, I’d think it was the second where I made a big par save after a bogey in the opening hole. That just got me going.”
Allan, winner of the Amateur Order of Merit in 2014 and 2015, secured his best finish as a professional on the MENA Tour. He parred every single hole from one to nine, before birdies on the 10th, 12th, 13th and 16th holes.
The tournament brings an end to the Spring season of the 2019 MENA Tour calendar. The Tour will return for the Autumn season in the last week of September.