AUGUSTA, GA. – The last time Francesco Molinari walked a round with Tiger Woods at the Masters, he was a caddie. He was lugging clubs for his brother, Edoardo, who had qualified for the 2006 Masters as an amateur.
“I didn’t learn much about the course,” Molinari said. “Because we were going sideways most of the time.”
Edoardo missed the cut, and his brother set about becoming one of the world’s best golfers.
Saturday, Molinari shot a 66 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Masters. Because of threatening weather in the afternoon, he will tee off at 8:20 a.m. Central with Tiger Woods and Tony Finau, who both trail him by two shots.
“My plan for tomorrow is to go out and do the same,” Molinari said. “But I think there’s going to be a few guys trying to mess with my plan.”
Woods is the most chiseled golfer at Augusta National and Finau is tall and powerful, leading the tournament in driving distance. Molinari, an Italian, is short and squat but plays with the kind of efficiency and calm most players would like to borrow when playing in majors.
He completely changed his putting stroke, and worked in the gym and on the range to add distance, and he has played as well as any golfer in the world over the last calendar year.
He won five of five possible points in the last Ryder Cup. He won the British Open despite being paired with Woods, and he finished tied for sixth at the PGA Championship.
He has finished in the top six at three of the past five majors. A straight driver who scrambles well, Molinari is more likely to wear down his competition than be worn down by a difficult course.
“It’s probably at least a couple of years worth of different little changes,” he said. “We’re still working on it. We’re not done.”
Twenty-two years ago Saturday, Woods won his first major, at the Masters. Finau and most pro golfers remember it as Woods making history. Molinari idolized Woods but also remembers that Woods played his final round with an Italian, Constantino Rocca.
“Constantino has been a huge role model and a huge motivation,” Molinari said. “I was lucky enough to meet him when I was like 18, maybe 17, not even a professional, and he’s a great guy.
“Spoke to me many times when I got on tour, trying to help me, and he’s been a big influence on my career.”
Sunday, Molinari can become the first reigning British Open champion to win the Masters since … Woods in 2001.