The Talk of Golf: Francesco Molinari's gamble pays off, but will he pay the ultimate price with
Francesco Molinari is on a high after becoming the first Italian to lift a PGA Tour title in more than 70 years, courtesy of a stunning 62 to win by eight at Tiger Woods’s event.
But at the back of his mind there must also be, at the very least, a trace of grievance that his latest victory is not worth a bean in the Ryder Cup standings. Otherwise, he would be all but guaranteed his berth.
Of course, Molinari knew the score when opting to play at the Quickens Loan National in Washington DC rather than the France Open at Le Golf National, the Versailles course where he has finished second three times and which will host the biennial dust-up in three months’ time.
In his bid to strengthen his status on the PGA Tour, this was a calculated decision on Molinari’s part and he can congratulate himself on a successful gamble.
But he would not be human if he did not analyse the rankings and berate the fact that for this qualification race, the European Tour has introduced a regulation which states that tournaments on other tours taking place opposite Rolex Series events do not count for the Ryder Cup.
It is a complicated scenario, but instead of being in a position where he is precariously hanging on to the last automatic qualifying place on the European points list, Molinari would be so high on the world points list then his return to the Ryder Cup after a six-year absence would be almost confirmed.
Molinari has won twice and chalked up a second in his last four tournaments and could even be classed as the hottest player in the world. But it is quite conceivable that his form could drop in the next month or so and, even if it does ever so slightly, then he could be pushed out of the automatic placings.
He could still easily find himself requiring one of Thomas Bjorn’s four captain’s picks and with names such as Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Rafael Cabrera Bello and Matt Fitzpatrick all currently on the outside looking in, that would be far from a comfortable situation.
It would be a great shame for Molinari and, indeed for Bjorn and Europe, if this were to prove the case and, to be frank, it would be absurd, as well.
This rule was brought in to encourage the top names to play in the eight Rolex Series events, which boast purses of $7m or more. Fair enough. But over the years, Molinari has been one of the Tour’s most loyal servants. He is exactly the sort of character the regulations should not be discouraging.
Not that Molinari should be entertaining the negatives. He is in the best streak of his career and there is no reason why he cannot carry this confidence into the Open at Carnoustie in two weeks’ time and/or the USPGA Championship at Bellerive three weeks’ later and make his major breakthrough.
Certainly, Turin’s finest can beat the best. He has shown so in his last magical month. At the BMW PGA Championship, Molinari saw off Rory McIlroy down the stretch and on Sunday, a certain Woods, himself, was back in fourth.
Naturally, that only brought the Ryder Cup even more into focus as in his two appearances tonight, Molinari has twice been drawn against Woods in the singles.
He was on the wrong end of a 4&3 scorline at Celtic Manor but two years later, in played a crucial role in the Miracle of Medinah grabbed the crucial half against Woods that ensured Europe won.
That is yet another impressive note on Molinari’s CV, but Bjorn knows that his friend is a far more accomplished player nowadays. Under Denis Pugh, his ball-striking has reached such heights it must be wondered if he has a current superior in the accuracy and distance-control departments.
And his recent work with another coach in putting guru Phil Kenyon has dramatically improved his stats on the green. He is beginning to look the full package, especially when one factors in his unflappable temperament.
Molinari did not flinch as he lengthened clear to record the biggest margin of victory on either of the two main tours all year. Woods, who also acts at the tournament host, was flabbergasted. “What Francesco's done back there is just awesome,” Woods said.
"I came here obviously because I was right on the bubble in the FedEx Cup [the PGA Tour ranking] and I wanted to gain a better position, so I guess job done," Molinari said. "It was a big risk, but when you play two tours, you need to balance the two things. It wasn't an easy decision, I thought until the last minute whether to go to France or to come here but seems like it was the right choice in the end."
Indeed, it was and somewhere Toney Penna would have nodded. He was the last Italian to triumph on US soil – in Atlanta in 1947. A flamboyant figure, Penna was best friends with Bing Crosby, who sang “Straight Down The Middle”. That could be Molinari’s theme tune.
Shot of the weekend Molinari’s 50-foot eagle putt on the 10th sparked an incredible five-hole run in which he was six-under. This is where the Quickens Loan National was won.
Flop of the weekend The American journalist who predicted that the Ryder Cup is “on the verge of irrelevancy”, such is the strength of the US team, was made to look an even bigger fool on a weekend which not only saw Molinari blow away a PGA Tour field, but Swede Alex Noren win the France Open at the host venue. Molinari’s win meant that six different Europeans have won on the PGA Tour this year. Inferior, indeed.
Quote of the weekend “One of the neat things about playing The Open Championship, they don't really care what par is, they just let whatever Mother Nature has. If it's in store for a wet Open, it is, if it's dry, it's dry. They don't try and manufacture an Open.”
Tiger Woods could not resist taking a subtle swipe at the USGA, the US Open organisers, as he looked forwards to the Open at Carnoustie in two weeks’ time.