ST. LOUIS — Francesco Molinari made his major championship debut 12 years ago at the Masters alongside Tiger Woods and didn't make it to the weekend.
That wasn't devastating. All he was doing was carrying his brother's bag.
"I remember the bag being very heavy because my brother likes to carry around a lot of stuff that is not needed on the golf course, really," Molinari said Tuesday. "And just the feeling of not liking being on the other side of the bag, having someone hitting the shots. Obviously, I would have much rather been playing that week, but it was an amazing experience walking two rounds alongside Tiger and just being at the Masters."
Edoardo Molinari had won the U.S. Amateur the previous year, giving him the traditional pairing at the 2006 Masters with the defending champion — Woods. His younger brother, 24-year-old Francesco, was in his second full year on the European Tour.
Francesco Molinari won his first tournament a month later at the Italian Open.
A dozen years later, he was alongside Woods again in a major, a memory that will stay with him forever. They were paired in the final round at Carnoustie last month when Molinari capped off a bogey-free weekend with a 69 for a three-shot victory in the British Open, the first major title for an Italian.
He still hasn't taken a sip from the silver claret jug. Molinari had a holiday with his family, headed to Ohio for a World Golf Championship and then flew straight to Bellerive for the PGA Championship, the final major of the year.
He's not opposed to some fine red wine, like any Italian. But there is still work to be done.
Even with a middling performance at Firestone last week — he only broke par on the last day with a 69 — Molinari's confidence is soaring. He is regarded as the hottest player in golf this summer, starting with his victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, adding an eight-shot victory at the Quicken Loans National and capping it off with his first major championship.
"Results are everything in sport, and it's been an amazing two months and an amazing run," Molinari said. "Carnoustie obviously topped everything off, but already before I was super happy with winning at Wentworth and winning at Quicken Loans and two second places."
Results confirm hard work and build confidence.
Molinari quietly goes about his work without fanfare and has managed to build confidence simply by knowing that he was getting better. Having missed two straight Ryder Cup teams, he slowly worked his way back into the top 50 and now is soaring.
Molinari and Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship are the only players to win a major while being paired with Woods on Sunday. He had to deal with plenty of commotion outside the ropes, especially when Woods took the lead for two holes in the middle of the final round.
He hasn't experienced the fame that comes with winning a major because it was just over two weeks ago and it's been business as usual. But odds are no one would notice him at Bellerive had his name not been engraved on the claret jug.
The list of players capturing the final two majors of the year is short — Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Woods (twice) and Lee Trevino are the only players to do that over the last 50 years.
"Now it's about embracing the new challenge and trying to work as hard as possible ... to stay up where I am now and improve even further," Molinari said.