Home favourite Francesco Molinari is hoping to recapture his winning form at the DS Automobiles Italian Open when he tees it up at the newly renovated Marco Simone Golf & Country Club.
A win this week for the Italian, who returns to the event after missing the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic, would make him just the third player to win the Italian Open on more than two occasions following his maiden victory in 2006 and his triumph ten years later in 2016.
The 2018 Open Champion entered the history books by winning a maximum five points in Europe’s victory at Le Golf National in the same year as his Major breakthrough, and this week he will play alongside his Ryder Cup partner Tommy Fleetwood, the Englishman with whom he formed an undefeated partnership in Paris three years ago.
Molinari is joined in the field by fellow Major winners Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer when Marco Simone – part of the European Tour Destinations network – hosts Italy’s national open for a second time having previously done so in 1994, before becoming the third venue in continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup in 2023.
Ross McGowan returns to Italy with fond memories after winning the 2020 edition at Chervo Golf Club where he prevailed in style to end an 11-year wait for his second European tour title.
The Englishman finished tied fourth at last week’s Omega European Masters and is hoping his recent good run of form continues this week as he attempts to defend his title.
Francesco Molinari: “I missed it last year, so it’s great to be back. Great to be at the Ryder Cup course. There are many reasons to be excited this week. I’m healthy and looking forward to the week.
“It was a bit up and down to be honest (in Switzerland), a bit of work to be done. Given the injuries I’ve had this year, I think at the moment it’s just about getting a bit more continuity and playing week-in, week-out and figuring out stuff every day I’m out on the course. It was great fun being back in Crans last week, it’s nice to be back in Europe for a few weeks and we’ve got Wentworth next week to look forward to. It’s a great run and hopefully we can play some good golf.
“It’s a great design. It’s probably even better than I thought it would be. Conditions-wise it’s great, I think all the guys are happy with the greens and the fairways. I was here… I was trying to figure it out… 22 or 23 years ago as a kid and the clubhouse is the same but everything else looks very different, they’ve done a really good job with it.”
Tommy Fleetwood: “It’s nice to be back. I haven’t been to this event for a couple of years, so it’s lovely to come back. I think everybody likes the place. I love the food and enjoy playing in front of the Italian crowds. A lot to look forward to really. I’m back on the European Tour after a little bit, I played a bit in the summer and then a month or two out. It’s always nice to come back to places you’ve played for a long time in your career. I’ll just continue to work on my game, continue to try and get better – that’s all you can do.
“My thoughts are just on today. We’re still trying to get better and find the form that I’ve had in the past and that I want going forward. Things to look forward to, for what has been not the greatest of years for me, golf-wise, throughout the summer The Open was back on, playing in the Olympics and the Ryder Cup coming up. It’s been a very exciting summer.
“I know nothing about here. I’ve played both nines, they are quite different. It always feels harder in a practice round, you have to play well, drive the ball well and hit it well and the greens are offering their own problems as well – it’s a strong golf course.
“It’s a long way in the future (2023), when you play one Ryder Cup you don’t want to miss another one. It’s such a special event, such a big event, I’ve loved the friendships and the bonds you make with your teammates during that week and riding a European crowd – France was an unforgettable experience for me, something I’ll always have. I would love more of them in front of home European fans, so I’ll be doing my best.”
Ross McGowan: “It has been almost a year since Chevo Golf Club and I’m looking forward to getting this week under way.
“It was one of those rounds where I kept it together. I hit driver the best I have and got the ball in the hole, which is obviously the main objective, but my putting that week was incredible.
“My coach a few weeks ago picked up a couple of things and in the last three or four tournaments I’ve gradually been playing better, so hopefully I can carry that on this week. It is beautiful. The greens are absolutely amazing and on the whole looks like an interesting course.”
Henrik Stenson: “The last couple of weeks it’s been a lot of fighting and good short game. I haven’t quite been where I want to be with the long game but mentally I’ve been very keen to produce results. That’s the main thing, when you’re determined to make something happen, at times you can. That’s what we’ll take with us and I’m no different this week after two weeks into the four and I want to keep on making results.
“No question I’m trying to pace myself, at least this afternoon – it was a long pro-am and it’s hot. So lunch, maybe an hour’s practice and some rest to get away from the sun. Definitely by the end of a four-week stretch you’ll feel it a little bit. Energy conservation is key at this point also.
“It’s a lot hillier than I thought. In Switzerland we know there’s a lot of up and down and elevation – on the back nine here you feel most of the holes you’re playing ten to 15 yards uphill or the same going downhill. Quite a lot of semi-blind shots into the breeze and the greens are quite undulated in areas. You have to know your game plan, where to hit and where not to be with some of these pin positions. I think it’s going to be a decent test, absolutely.”