CRANS-SUR-SIERRE, Switzerland – Edoardo Molinari is returning to the European Masters this week and unlike last year, no one is questioning why he’s here.
When Molinari was given a sponsors’ invite to play in the 2009 tournament as a relatively unknown Challenge Tour player, there were plenty of questions as to why he was picked ahead of several struggling European Tour golfers who needed prize money to keep their tour cards.
But the 29-year-old Italian went on to finish 14th, which heralded the start of a meteoric rise up the world rankings that culminated in him being selected to Europe’s Ryder Cup team for the first time on Sunday.
That came after he birdied the last three holes to clinch victory at the focus after clinching his European Ryder Cup debut with victory in last weekend’s Johnnie Walker Championship, his second win in Scotland in eight weeks.
Now he has to forget all that and find enough energy to focus on golf again.
“I am not tired,” Molinari insisted as he practiced in the mountains Wednesday. “I didn’t celebrate on Sunday night. I got a lot of messages and e-mails and it was a very sweet feeling to watch the birdie putts on 16 and 17 and the chip of 18.
“I watched them at least 15 times it was good fun. But now I am really focused on this week and I really want to win again.”
Molinari is seventh in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings, but the winner’s check of €333,000 here would halve the distance to leader Martin Kaymer, who is not playing this week.
The main obstacle standing in the way of that check could be British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, but Molinari is counting on the support of a large Italian contingent among the supporters. Molinari lives just two hours away in Turin.
He is also hoping for some help from his new Irish caddie Colin Byrne, who carried the bag of Sweden’s Alex Noren when he won the European Masters last year.
“We had a joke that he is the defending champion,” Molinari said. “And I told him he had better defend well.
“But he has a lot experience in majors with players like Retief Goosen and 20 victories. Hopefully this week will be the 21st.”
Molinari also has some experience of his own these days – at least a lot more than when he arrived last year.
“I feel very relaxed,” he said. “A year ago after I got an invite to this event, when I finished in the top 20 I knew then that I had the ability to compete at this level.”