FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — One month has passed—31 days to be exact—since Tiger Woods won the Masters. Or, as some contrarians might have it, since Francesco Molinari did not require fitting for a green jacket. For many, what turned onto Woods’ 15th major win could, and should, have been Molinari’s second. Mind you, that’s not quite how the Italian sees things as the “champion golfer of the year” for 2018 prepares for his 11th appearance at the PGA Championship.
Molinari definitely did not leave Augusta “satisfied” with his week’s work. Not at all. But that view has softened since.
“Immediately after, you obviously look at things a bit differently,” he said on Wednesday. “I was happy with the way I fought on Sunday and the way I played. But obviously I was hoping for more at the beginning of the day. The main thing is to get into that situation as often as possible; then you're going to win some and lose some. No one is unbeatable. Hopefully I can be there many more times and get a bit of luck at the right time.”
There were mitigating circumstances too. While he was feeling well enough to play well in Augusta and not exactly in need of hospitalization, Molinari had been under the weather all week and on antibiotics, having picked up a bug from his children. By Sunday, he was rapidly running out of gas, a situation that was obvious from some uncharacteristically loose ball-striking over the early holes. Invariably metronomic between tee and green, the 36-year-old from Turin was forced to rely on his short game during his battle with Woods. He was, as became apparent on the fateful 12th hole, an accident waiting to happen.
“It took some time to recover physically because I wasn’t 100 percent all week in Augusta,” he admitted. “It was a big effort to do what I did. On Sunday, when the adrenaline kind of went down, I felt how much I was spending energy-wise. In those circumstances you ask a lot to your body, and then at some point you're going to pay a price for it.
“The week after, I played at Hilton Head. But I wasn’t nearly ready to play. In a way it was good I missed the cut. That gave me the weekend off to recover a bit more. So, while I’ve obviously analyzed what happened at Augusta with the people around me, it was pretty quick and straightforward.”
As far as that belated inspection is concerned, Molinari was quick to point out how he had actually hit the ball better on the back-nine than the front, apart from the two destructive shots that both found water on the 12th and 15th.
“On the front nine I wasn’t feeling very comfortable hitting the ball off the tee,” he confirmed. “I made a lot of good up-and-downs. But it was a struggle to build momentum when I was struggling to save par the whole time. On the back nine, I obviously hit a couple of bad shots, but there were a lot of good swings as well, under pressure. So that’s what I focused on the last couple of weeks prepping for this week.”
Speaking of which, Molinari’s assessment of the fearsome Bethpage Black course was, ironically, short and to the point: “Long, very long, and extremely long.”
Playing alongside his Ryder Cup pal and partner, Tommy Fleetwood, Molinari had needed a 3-wood to reach both the 10th and 12th greens. So did Fleetwood. All of which only underlined the pair’s feeling that this is a course where only those finding the fairway off the tee on a consistent basis can hope to contend come Sunday. Even then, there are no guarantees.
“Even if you do hit the fairways, there’s a long way to go,” Molinari said. “There’s not many short holes. I think probably 11 or 12 holes out of 18, you’d be extremely happy with par. The greens are also going to make things very difficult. They are really fast, faster than anytime I’ve been here in the past. That’s a big factor if you're coming in with 3-woods and hybrids and 4-irons. I don’t see the scoring being too low. But a lot will depend on what kind of conditions we get during the tournament days and how they decide to set up the course.”