Molinari a surprise visitor to Maui

By Doug FergusonJanuary 8, 2011, 12:06 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – The so-called European snub of the PGA Tour was supposed to be evident at the season-opening Tournament of Champions, which is missing Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and PGA champion Martin Kaymer.

All of them are PGA Tour winners, high in the world ranking, with no intention of taking up PGA Tour membership this year.

So what to make of Francesco Molinari?

The Italian was a surprise visitor to Kapalua. He became eligible by winning the HSBC Champions in Shanghai with as fine a performance as any last year, beating Westwood by one shot and finishing 10 ahead of everyone else in the world-class field. He is No. 16 in the world and has no plans to be a regular in America.

So why waste one of his 12 exemptions in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and in the middle of a short vacation?

His wife, Valentina, is expecting their first child in February, so Molinari wants to get in as many tournaments as he can.

“My idea for this year was to play more in January,” Molinari said after opening with a 4-under 69 on a Plantation Course he had never seen until this week. “I was thinking of doing the Africa Open, but when I got a chance to come here … it’s a great tournament, and I’m happy to be here.”

Molinari will return next week to London – he moved there from Italy last year for easier travel – and then play the Middle East on the European Tour before going home to await the birth of his son.

Because he has never been a PGA Tour member, Molinari can play as many as 12 tournaments. That typically means the four majors, three World Golf Championships and five regular tour events. He doubts he’ll reach his minimum, in part because he most likely won’t be at the Match Play Championship. His wife is expecting a week before the first WGC event in Arizona.

Molinari has not entirely ruled himself out, but it’s not currently on his schedule.

“There’s always the outside chance if the baby comes a month early, I might decide to come play,” he said. “But when the baby is coming, I want to be home for at least two or three weeks, if possible. It’s quite unlikely I’m going to play.”

Starting a family is yet another reason Molinari isn’t interested in being a PGA Tour member, although he loves playing in America. His first golf trip was to the Houston area in 2004 for The Spirit, an international amateur event. He didn’t return for another five years, when he qualified for his first U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

“I will come over this year maybe two or three times to play regular events,” Molinari said. “It’s very nice for a European player in the top 50 to come here and play against these guys. It’s still part of the learning experience for me. Last year was the first time I played four majors in the same year. I’m trying to make the most of it.”

Molinari’s plan is to return to the U.S. in time for Doral in early March, and he would like to play the Houston Open after hearing strong reviews about the tournament and the course as a good preparation for the Masters a week later.

The Italian Open, where he won his first tournament as a pro in 2006, is no longer the same week as The Players Championship. It’s a week before the U.S. Open instead, although Molinari figures there will be a charter flight for Europeans.

Also on his wish list is The Heritage at Hilton Head, even though it is two weeks after the Masters this year.

“The great thing about being high in the world ranking is you can pick and play half the schedule here and half the schedule in Europe,” he said. “In the future, what I’m going to do with the baby coming, I’m going to have some interesting times. I think I’ll be a member in Europe for a few years. But you never know. I love being here.”

Molinari might not have registered with American fans until the Ryder Cup, and that was only memorable because Tiger Woods played the final seven holes against him in 7-under par.

His performance in Shanghai was simply stellar, though, with a 67-67 weekend to hold off Westwood in the Englishman’s first tournament as the No. 1 player in the world. Molinari didn’t have a chance to soak in that big win until he returned home after the season, and someone sent him DVD’s of his WGC victory.

“It was definitely a huge achievement, especially playing Lee. That wasn’t easy,” Molinari said. “I waited a long time for the second win, but it was probably worth it. You can’t play, unfortunately, every single week like that. At least it’s good to know you have that in the bag. If you prepare properly, you can do that sort of stuff.”

His infrequent trips to America included a stop at the Reno-Tahoe Open two years ago, when he was not in the top 50 and couldn’t play the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.

He loved it.

“I used to live in Torino, and it’s so close to the mountains,” he said. “It reminded me a little bit of home. We went to Lake Tahoe and I really enjoyed the week.”

Hawaii isn’t bad, either.

His pre-tournament festivities included a a boat ride with Graeme McDowell to watch humpback whales, and it made quite an impression when a few of them were right under the boat.

“That was great,” Molinari said. “We don’t have whales in Italy.”

Getty Images

Rose (64) peaking just ahead of the U.S. Open

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 8:40 pm

A former U.S. Open champion appears to be finding his form just three weeks ahead of the year's second major.

Justin Rose ascended to the top of the leaderboard Friday at the Fort Worth Invitational, with rounds of 66-64 pushing him to 10 under par for the week.

Through 36 at Colonial, Rose has marked 12 birdies against just two bogeys.

"Yeah, I did a lot of good things today," Rose said. "I think, you know, the end of my round got a little scrappy, but until the last three holes it was pretty flawless. I think I hit every fairway pretty much and obviously every green to that point. ...

"Yeah, the way I played through, I guess through my first 15 holes today, was about as good as I've played in a long time."


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Rose won in back-to-back weeks last fall, stunning Dustin Johnson at the WGC-HSBC Championship and riding that victory right into another at the Turkish Airlines Open.

Now the 2013 U.S. Open winner at Merion feels himself once again rounding into form ahead of this year's Open at Shinnecock. A final-round 66 at The Players gave Rose something to focus on in his recent practice sessions with swing coach Sean Foley, as the two work to shore up the timing of Rose's transition into the downswing.

As for his decision to tee it up at Colonial for the first time since 2010, "It was more the run of form really," Rose explained. "I feel like if I didn't play here it was going to be a little spotty going into the U.S. Open. I felt like I wanted to play enough golf where I would have a good read on my game going into Shinnecock.

"So rather than the venue it was more the timing, but it's obviously it's just such a bonus to be on a great layout like this."

For whatever reason, Rose does tend to play his best golf at iconic venues, having won PGA Tour events at Muirfield Village, Aronimink, Cog Hill, Doral, Merion and Congressional.

Getty Images

Koepka (63): Two wrist dislocations in two months

By Nick MentaMay 25, 2018, 8:19 pm

Brook Koepka's journey back from a wrist injury that kept him out four months hasn't been totally smooth sailing, even if his play has suggested otherwise.

Koepka on Friday fired a 7-under 63 to move up the leaderboard into a tie for third, three shots behind leader Justin Rose through the end of the morning wave at the Fort Worth Invitational.

After a slow start Thursday saw him play his first 13 holes 3 over, Koepka is 10 under with 11 birdies in his last 23 holes at Colonial.

"It doesn't matter to me. I could care less. I'm still going to try as hard as I can," Koepka said. "I don't care how many over or how many under I am. Still going to fight through it."


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Just like he's been fighting his wrist the last two months or so. Koepka reinjured his wrist the Wednesday of The Players when he was practicing on the range and had to halt mid-swing after a golf cart drove in front of him. He nonetheless managed to finish T-11.

And that's not the only issue he's had with that wrist during his return.

"We had a bone pop out of place. I didn't tell anybody, but, yeah, they popped it back in," Koepka admitted Friday. "Luckily enough we kind of popped it back into place right away so it wasn't stiff and I didn't have too, too many problems.

"Yeah. I mean, I've dislocated my wrist twice in the last two months. You know, different spots, but, I mean, it's fun. I'll be all right."

Getty Images

Twitter spat turns into fundraising opportunity

By Rex HoggardMay 25, 2018, 6:30 pm

Country music star Jake Owen, along with Brandt Snedeker, has turned a spat on Twitter into a fundraising campaign that will support Snedeker’s foundation.

On Thursday, Owen was criticized during the opening round of the Web.com Tour’s Nashville Golf Open, which benefits the Snedeker Foundation, for his poor play after opening with an 86.

In response, Snedeker and country singer Chris Young pledged $5,000 for every birdie that Owen makes on Friday in a campaign called NGO Birdies for Kids

Although Owen, who is playing the event on a sponsor exemption, doesn’t tee off for Round 2 in Nashville until 2 p.m. (CT), the campaign has already generated interest, with NBC Sports/Golf Channel analyst Peter Jacobsen along with Web.com Tour player Zac Blair both pledging $100 for every birdie Owen makes.

Getty Images

Noren so impressed by Rory: 'I'm about to quit golf'

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 5:33 pm

Alex Noren won the BMW PGA Championship last year, one of his nine career European Tour victories.

He opened his title defense at Wentworth Club in 68-69 and is tied for fourth through two rounds. Unfortunately, he's five back of leader Rory McIlroy. And after playing the first two days alongside McIlroy, Noren, currently ranked 19th in the world, doesn't seem to like his chances of back-to-back wins.

McIlroy opened in 67 and then shot a bogey-free 65 in second round, which included pars on the pair of par-5 finishing holes. Noren walked away left in awe.

"That's the best round I've ever seen," Noren said. "I'm about to quit golf, I think."

Check out the full interview below: