Francesco Molinari found a world-class form later in his professional golf career, and at the 2019 Masters, he is in position to capitalize on that form and join the short list of players with multiple major championships.
Molinari has been considered an elite ball-striking talent for years, but if he can follow up last year’s win at The Open with a green jacket on Sunday, he will have put together a Hall of Fame-caliber resume based exclusively on the results of less than 12 months. The key to his success this week has been avoiding bogeys, recording just one through 54 holes of competition and becoming the first player in 25 years to go 41 holes without a bogey at the Masters.
According to the great Justin Ray, Molinari’s steady and solid approach to the game has netted him a combined 31 under score in his last 163 holes of major championship competition with only six (!!!) bogeys or worse.
“I just try to do my best on every shot,” Molinari told CBS Sports’ Amanda Ballionis. “I think I did very well strategy-wise. I hit the ball maybe less well than I did [Frirday], but I was able to hole some putts. I can only be happy about today and it’s going to be an exciting day tomorrow.”
Molinari will be teeing off at 9:20 a.m. ET with Tony Finau and Tiger Woods, his playing partner from last July when he won The Open at Carnoustie.
“Obviousl,y he’s playing great, but there’s a lot of guys who are playing great,” Molinari said with a smile while discussing his pairing with Woods. “I wish I only had to worry about him, but there’s a few more I think are going to come out tomorrow and try to shoot a low one. We’ll see what the weather does, that’s obviously going to be a factor tomorrow. The course today was pretty gettable, so if it stays the same, someone could go out tomorrow and shoot 7, 8, 9 under and jump up the leaderboard.”
Molinari understands, clearly, that the early start will give world class golfers a chance to take aim at a dewey and soft Augusta National. This isn’t going to be a year where the Masters is won by playing defense. With all the action that will be ongoing with threesomes starting on two tees, there is going to be very little time for any of the competitors to be leaderboard-watching.
Now here’s eight from that leaderboard who could catch Molinari
Tiger Woods (T2, -11): If your view of this tournament is exclusively focused on Tiger, then the lingering thought is that there have been five or six putts that could/should have dropped across the last 54 holes. And if half of those putts go in, you might be thinking, Woods has the 54-hole lead heading into Sunday at the Masters. A more level-headed approach notes that while those strokes could end up being the difference between Tiger winning or not winning another green jacket, he’s been all over the cup and all it will take is a well-timed heater to propel him to a 67 or 68 on Sunday.
Brooks Koepka (3rd, -10): There was a lot of confidence coming off of Koepka at the end of Saturday. He knows he hasn’t played great either of the last two days, but there’s a chance to wake up early and go get that green jacket. While Koepka has previously stated he likes the afternoon tee times so that he can get a workout in, he told CBS Sports’ Amanda Ballionis that he hasn’t been hitting the gym like that this week and looks forward to not waiting around all day for his start time.
One more thing: if Brooks wins this, are we going to know how to handle it? Koepka has the potential to put himself up in the conversation with Tiger in terms of being a dominant major championship player of his era should he emerge as the winner on Sunday. Everyone agrees Koepka is elite, but a fourth major championship in a two-year span would elevate him to new levels of recognition and status.
Tony Finau (T2, -11): Nothing in golf in 2019 is more fun than Finau on a heater. It feels like Finau is either going to shoot a 73 or a 66 on Sunday morning, and I would believe either result.
Rickie Fowler (T12, -7): We have repeated evidence of Fowler’s scoring ability at this course over the years, making him more likely to have the round of the day than others ahead of him on the leaderboard. A top-10 feels like a lock, but a win would be legendary for the golfer currently carrying a lead in that “best player without a major” conversation.
Dustin Johnson (T7, -8): D.J. only has four bogeys through 54 holes, but his exquisite skill has turned a lot of potential bogey holes into pars during his run. Still, we’re talking about one of the best players in the world needing only a 5-under score to catch the leader.
Webb Simpson (T5, -9): Discipline is a huge part of keeping your game together here, and as long as Webb sticks to the plan, I think we’re going to see him reach 11 under, at least. Whether that’s good enough to win is going to come down to what else happens on the leaderboard.
Xander Schauffele (T7, -8): A big dog who has gotten comfortable on the big stage, Schauffele has played well enough to be in contention but made just a few too many mistakes along the way to think he’s going to emerge from this pack of elite players and former major champions.
Ian Poulter (T5, -9): It’s going to be a strange finish, so why not an unlikely Masters champ? Poulter fits the bill, and his 68 was probably one of the best overlooked rounds of the day because of his pairing with Tiger.
Others in contention: Matt Kuchar (T7, -8), Justin Harding (T7, -8), Louis Oosthuizen (T7, -8), Adam Scott (T12, -7)