AUGUSTA, Ga. – Francesco Molinari was a 20-1 pick among oddsmakers to win his second major championship and first green jacket when the 83rd Masters started Thursday morning.
Since then, he has made only one bogey over 54 holes, on the difficult par-4 11th hole in his opening round, and recorded 14 birdies to establish a two-shot lead over Tiger Woods and Tony Finau going into one of the most anticipated Sundays in Masters history (scores).
© GOLFFILE/FRAN CAFFREY
Francesco Molinari holds a 2-stroke lead entering today’s final round of the Masters, and the Vegas oddsmakers like his chances.
Las Vegas finally took notice, installing the Italian as a 7-4 favorite to win today, but is that a fair assessment?
By any measure, Molinari, 36, of Turin, Italy, has proved that his position on the top of the leaderboard is no fluke. Molinari, No. 7 in the Official World Golf Ranking and the 2018 British Open winner, has enjoyed little success at Augusta in the past. It’s understandable why he would attract little attention coming into the first major championship of the season.
In 24 rounds spanning seven Masters appearances, Molinari recorded only one round in the 60s and a best finish of T-19.
The 70-67-66 line that Molinari has produced over 54 holes is not the lowest 54-hole score in Masters history, but it has put him in a position that he hasn’t been in before: leading after three rounds of a major championship.
“My plan for [Sunday] is to go out and do the same,” Molinari said matter-of-factly after his round. “But I think there's going to be a few guys trying to mess up with my plan.”
That’s not an understatement, but a fact that most players would be concerned about, especially because one of those challengers is Woods.
Molinari has shown little concern about Woods in the past. Last year at Carnoustie, Molinari started the final round of the British Open paired with Woods and three shots off the lead. Molinari displayed patience in making 13 consecutive pars before two birdies in the final five holes to win by two strokes.
Molinari finished three strokes ahead of Woods, who had taken the lead briefly before struggling on the back nine at Carnoustie. Molinari made eight birdies on the weekend, with no bogeys.
Fast forward nine months, and the pattern looks similar. In Saturday’s third round at Augusta, Molinari recorded six birdies, just as he did at Carnoustie. And just as he did in Scotland, Molinari looked the part of a major champion, though his major-championship pedigree had not been established then.
Now, he comes to today’s final round with the experience of having won a major title and the confidence that he can do it again.
“Every tournament is different, and every time is a different story,” Molinari said. “He [Woods] obviously loves this place, and he's playing great golf. So, I'm aware that it's not going to be easy tomorrow, and you know, like I said, I can just do my best.”
Molinari knows that Woods is not the only challenger on the leaderboard. Tony Finau stands two strokes, with Woods; Brooks Koepka is three back; and Webb Simpson and Ian Poulter trail by four.
Oddly, the last time Woods and Molinari were in the same group at Augusta was in the first two rounds of the 2006 Masters. Molinari was on the bag for older brother, Edoardo, the 2005 U.S. Amateur winner, who was paired with Woods, the defending champion at Augusta after his fourth green jacket.
This time, Molinari hopes that he can trade his Augusta National caddie overalls for one of the club’s green jackets.
“Obviously, it's nice to be a little bit ahead, but you might just need one hole to change,” Molinari said. “You never know how it's going to go, especially around a course like here. So, I think the key for me is really going to go out tomorrow and just do my thing. Keep staying aggressive, like I was trying to be today. Hit the shots. Hit the middle of the clubface as often as I can and make smart decisions, and we'll just take it from there.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli