Masters 2019: Golf's true overlooked star is atop the Masters leader board
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Brooks Koepka feels overlooked? Please. Overlooked men don't date models, sit courtside with former presidents, or pose nude (we think ... actually we don't want to think) for magazines. Koepka's overlooked in the abstract only.
If you want to see a true forgotten figure, gaze your eyes towards the top of the Masters leader board, where Francesco Molinari—who once worked this tournament as a caddie—resides following a bogey-free 67 on Friday.
"Obviously it was a very good day for me," Molinari said on Friday afternoon. "Started playing well from the beginning. Made a couple nice putts towards the end of the back nine. Didn't really get in trouble at any point. Just played solid."
"Solid" is for U.S. and British Opens, not the Masters. Augusta National is supposed to favor bravado, especially on a week when the confines are wet. But Molinari, a man of patience and dispassion, is putting that notion to bed, attacking the course by surgically tearing it apart. The 36-year-old has missed just five fairways through two rounds, hitting over 72 percent of greens in the process. He made birdies on the par-5 eighth and 15th, holes that players are supposed to birdie, and another at the third, which, while nice, is not particularly something to write home about.
Yet he snagged two on the field with birdies at the potentially dangerous 12th and 14th, and—despite being one of the shortest players off the tee—managed long par 4s at the fifth, 11th and 18th without incident.
"Really happy the way I played and the way we managed the strategy with my caddie," Molinari said. "I just feel better. I think that feeds into the long game, as well, knowing that I can hit the irons without being completely terrified of missing a green in the wrong spot."
If only his opponents felt the same way about him.
Molinari—which is Italian for "assassin"—has been more hurricane than human, blowing away all in his path the past year. He's won four times in that span, highlighted by a cold-blooded performance at Carnoustie when the rest of the event's contenders went sideways. And while superstars Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Jon Rahm combined for a losing record at the Ryder Cup, it was Molinari—along with Tommy Fleetwood—that put a hurtin' on the Americans.
Those feats received their love; "Moli-wood" was even briefly a thing. Conversely, those moments were overshadowed, at least in the U.S., by other tales. At the Open it was Tiger Woods, flirting with major victory No. 15. At the Ryder Cup, it was Patrick Reed committing a hit-and-run over his teammates in an interview.
Stories that are juicy, and Molinari...well, he doesn't scream pizzazz. His stoicism can be mistaken for boredom, walking a course as if he's taking out the trash. The games of the world's best are fueled by power that excites; Molinari's is precision that can put you to sleep. Most stars are either fledgling talents or have been tour de forces for 20 years; until his heater ignited, Molinari was a journeyman.
Perhaps that's why, in spite of a win at Bay Hill and a semi-finals appearance at Match Play, Molinari was mostly an unmentioned name heading into the Masters. Even after a respectable two-under opening on Thursday, he was overshadowed by others at 70 like Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day. For whatever reason, he doesn't command much publicity.
A sentiment underlined by one of the most made-for-media-guide facts about Molinari: That he once was on the bag at the Masters, caddieing for his brother Edoardo. Which checks out; what other profession is as overlooked as the looper?
Not that Molinari minds the lack of spotlight.
"There's obviously loads of great players in golf right now, 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," Molinari said. "So I'm happy to go about my business and keep playing good golf. That's what I'm trying to focus on."
It's working, at Augusta and around the world. His seven-under total through two days has him leading the event with Koepka and Day, with a who's who of contenders behind.
"What I've learned from the last 12 months is that's all I can control and that's all I can do when I'm out there, keep doing what I'm doing and keep making every process that I have even tighter and better," Molinari. "Just do that and see if anyone can beat me on the course."
Going to be hard to overlook Molinari if he continues to do that.