Molinari 2.0 continuing torrid run at Masters
Shoots bogey-free 67 Friday to climb leaderboard; aims for fifth win in last 12 months
April 12, 2019
By Cameron Morfit , PGATOUR.COM
- Francesco Molinari will be in a prime position entering the weekend at the Masters. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – There were all sorts of reasons to doubt Francesco Molinari, who heads into the weekend hot after a bogey-free, second-round 67 got him to 7 under par and in a three-way tie for the lead with players still out on the course at the 83rd Masters Tournament.
Sure, in the last 12 months he had won four times around the world, including The Open Championship. And OK, he went 5-0-0 at the Ryder Cup, mostly with Tommy Fleetwood. But in seven Masters starts he’d done no better than 19th, in 2012. He didn’t even do very well as a caddie for his brother, then-reigning U.S. Amateur champ Edoardo, at the 2006 Masters.
“I didn’t learn a lot, to be honest, about the course, because we were going sideways most of the time,” Francesco said, laughing. He called the two days of pulling clubs for his brother, “a bit of a nightmare.”
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How uninspiring was Francesco’s record here? It wasn’t a nightmare, but one of his fellow major winners, when presented with the idea of drafting Molinari for a Masters fantasy team, said this week, “He hits it too flat to win at Augusta. Fleetwood, yes, but Molinari doesn’t hit it high enough.”
All of which is turning out to be completely wrong.
Molinari 2.0 is not the same player, as he continues to prove for the slower learners among us.
For starters, he said Friday, he is way more comfortable on the greens. His work with putting coach Phil Kenyon paid big dividends starting last spring, when Molinari won the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship, and he kept right on winning at the Quicken Loans National, The Open, and this season’s Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
What did he change? The question should probably be: What didn’t he change? He transformed his setup, he said, from upright to more of a crouching position. He altered his path, from in-to-out to neutral. He changed his actual putter, in both shape and markings—the old one had an alignment line, this one a dot. And he changed his tempo.
“Pretty much I could have started putting left-handed,” he said. “It would have been a similar process.”
The payoff has been stark. He’s 23rd in Strokes Gained: Putting (+.564) this season compared to 182nd (-.487) last year. He’s the only player on the PGA TOUR to improve a stroke or more since last season.
“I feel a massive difference when I’m on the greens or around the greens, compared to my previous times here,” he said after taking just 25 putts Friday.
As for the assertion that he hits it too flat, or isn’t long enough, that’s now completely wrong, too. Molinari admits he used to be that guy. He was playing the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool when it hit him like a golf ball to the forehead. Paired with uber-long Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy for the third round, Molinari realized he was so comparatively short he didn’t stand a chance, even if he played perfectly.
“I saw that I didn’t stand a chance, really,” he said. “I didn’t play my best golf, but even if I had, there wasn’t much I could do to compete against them. That was a big wake-up call.”
He went to work on his swing, making a bigger turn on his historically compact swing, and working out for the first time. “I was more of a couch guy a few years ago,” he told the PGA TOUR’s Sean Martin last fall, for a story chronicling Molinari’s distance gains.
The result: He has gained 20 yards since 2015.
According to Mark Broadie, who invented the Strokes Gained metric and who keeps statistics for Molinari, a 20-yard distance gain can mean up to three strokes per tournament. The par-5 eighth hole is a good example of how that plays out at Augusta National. In the past, Molinari said, he had to aim his tee shot left of the right fairway bunker, but now if the wind is right he can clear it. That can mean the difference between going for the green in two, or laying up.
He birdied the eighth Friday, and is 4-under on the par 5s in eight chances so far this week.
He’s too short? Too flat? No and no. He’s atop the leaderboard, is what he is.
Did he feel overlooked, the way fellow co-leader Brooks Koepka (71) has? Also no.
“There’s obviously loads of great players in golf right now,” said Molinari, who is coming off a third-place finish at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. “And you know, I think I’m getting the attention that I deserve, and it’s not something that I seek or that I want desperately. I’m happy to go about my business and keep playing good golf.”
Francesco Molinari isn’t going sideways at Augusta anymore.