AUGUSTA, Ga. – Francesco Molinari has waited a long time to put the demons from the 2019 Masters in his rearview.
Nearly 600 days’ worth of anguish.
Rewind back to April of last year and there’s Molinari standing on the 12th tee on Sunday with a two-stroke lead, again getting the better of one Tiger Woods in the final round of a major championship.
At the time, Molinari was arguably the world’s best player despite his ranking of No. 7. He had won three events in 2018 – including the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, and the biggest one of all, the Open, when he held off, among others, Woods, his playing partner that day, to win the Claret Jug. Two months later, he became the first European to go 5-0 in the Ryder Cup as Europe crushed the U.S.
Heading into the 2019 Masters, he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational a month prior and finished third in the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play two weeks prior.
And then he was in control of the Masters.
Until he wasn’t.
Playing with Woods and Tony Finau in the final group, the 38-year-old Italian dumped his tee shot at the 12th into Rae’s Creek, chunked his third shot into the pond fronting the green at the 15th and wilted his way to a tie for fifth as a resurgent Woods captured his fifth Masters and 15th major victory.
Since driving off Magnolia Lane that day, Molinari hasn’t recorded a single top-10 and missed six cuts in 20 worldwide starts and has dropped to 85th in the world.
And all that time he had to wait to salvage some redemption at Augusta National.
“It seems much longer than a year and a half ago,” Molinari said earlier this week. “I was missing a little bit of closure, having to wait to come back. I don’t know how this year we thought it might go better. It might go worse. But at least, playing the course again will help me process from last time what happened last year.”
Molinari hasn’t exactly been sitting in dark rooms thinking back to what happened on the back nine in 2019. He’s been quite busy, as he, wife Valentina, and their two children moved from London – where they had lived for 12 years – and first set up shop in San Francisco before deciding to make Los Angeles their new home.
That’s a seismic shift in anyone’s life, a 6,000-mile move across the Atlantic.
And then the COVID-19 global pandemic changed the world.
“When they closed the borders from the U.S. to the UK, it was a strange feeling to know I would so far away when they were in England,” said Molinari, who has three PGA Tour titles and five European Tour titles on his resume. “The pandemic made a strange year for everyone. But for me, for us as a family, we moved countries. We moved continents. When the pandemic hit, we were in lockdown for a while, and it was different for me to take a break. I’ve been doing this for 15, 16 years, and I know you just don’t stop. You never stop. It’s just season after season.
“For me personally, I could turn it into something of an advantage, and now we’re obviously here in the states and getting settled as a family.”
He’s trying to settle things with his golf game, too. Molinari has only played twice since the PGA Tour resumed play in June. But he is coming off his best performance in nearly a year – he closed with a 66 and finished in a tie for 15th in last week’s Vivant Houston Open.
“My game, basically, feels like I’m never happy this season. So I can’t say I’m playing better because I’ve only played really six rounds in the last seven or eight months,” he said. “But, yeah, last week in Houston, I played well. I think I’m further ahead than I thought I was going to be at this point. The goal was really to be ready for January 2021.
“Last week I showed that I’m playing well enough. So, yeah, probably raised the expectations a little bit after last week, and we’re all competitors. So when we show up on the 1st tee, you forget what you’ve been doing for the last year, and you just want to compete. I’ll try to play my best.”
And he’ll do his best to put the 2019 Masters behind him.
“It’s nice to be back. Last year wasn’t the ending I was looking for, but it was still a very good week and something that I’m very proud of to have been in that position in Augusta,” he said. “Hopefully, this week, it will bring some sort of closure. It’s been kind of hanging around, and it’s been a long time since last year.”