Francesco Molinari insists he does not feel any extra pressure as he goes in search of back-to-back Rolex Series wins on home soil at the Italian Open.
The 35 year old, who is currently third in the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex, claimed a brilliant win at last week’s BMW PGA Championship and arrives at Gardagolf Country Club as many people’s favourite to join Jon Rahm as a multiple winner of Rolex Series events.
With two wins and four further top tens – including last season – at his home Open, there is little to suggest that such favouritism is misplaced. The Turin native has missed just one Italian Open since 2000 and was also in the field 15 years ago when the event was last played here by Lake Garda.
Another man who will have plenty of home support is Matteo Manassero. The 25 year old returns to the course he grew up learning the game at as its touring professional alongside Nino Bertasio, and will be hoping his knowledge of Gardagolf will see a second successive Italian winner on the European Tour in as many weeks.
Ian Poulter is also set to make his return to the event that set him on the road to golfing stardom when he plays his first Italian Open in 14 years this week.
The Englishman’s win in Sardinia in 2000 would prove to be the first of 12 so far on the European Tour in a career that has also seen him play a talismanic role in four European Ryder Cup victories.
The 42 year old is back up to 27th in the Official World Golf Ranking after a run of form this season that has seen him secure top tens in Dubai and at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a win on the US PGA Tour, as he aims for a big European summer and a sixth Ryder Cup appearance.
Francesco Molinari: “I don’t think it’s going to make a massive difference. Obviously the expectations would have been high anyway, so I was glad to get the win last week. Now we just play and start again and I’ll try to be ready for tomorrow.
“It’s been an intense couple of days but it’s great. I reflect on it and I’m really proud of the way I performed over the weekend. It’s great to be here now in Italy, coming off of that, and I hope that I make the most of the high and have another good week this week.
“I love it – it’s one of my favourite events of the year. To get the support of the crowd and obviously we have a new venue this year, I’m looking forward to the week. I’ll see how well I’ve recovered from last week’s effort but I’ll do as well as I can.
“I enjoy the home support and it’s great to see all the crowd getting behind you. Obviously it’s a little bit of pressure but I’ve been managing that well in the past and I’m looking forward to that again this year.”
Ian Poulter: “Obviously my first victory many years ago now, when I look back, was one which kind of got it all started for me.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing in Italy. I won it two years later, 2002, in Rome. So for me, it’s been quite a lot of time between 2004 and today, since last playing in Italy. I’m very much looking forward to this week.
“In terms of my golf game, I think I’m a better golfer today than I was 15 years ago. I’m mentally the same person, I feel fresh, I still feel young, I’m still young at heart. I have a lot to give in golf and, for me, the big difference is I’m definitely stronger in the mind than I was 15 years ago.
“I think my game’s in shape. When you look at my statistics and my current form from the start of 2018, I’ve played very well, played very consistently.
“Getting the win in Houston was a huge boost – to make the Masters, to set up this summer’s golf – it is something which I’m pretty proud of, the form that I’m in is now about having a strong summer.
“It’s about getting myself in position to make the Ryder Cup Team and really enjoy my family time. The family arrive tomorrow evening in the UK and they are going to spend about 11 weeks. So for me, it’s great to be able to enjoy some family time, some fantastic weather and enjoy playing some good golf.”