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Defending Open title in Portrush will be 'extra special' for Molinari

 

Major feeling: Francesco Molinari lifts the Claret Jug at Carnoustie
Major feeling: Francesco Molinari lifts the Claret Jug at Carnoustie
David Kelly

By David Kelly

Francesco Molinari couldn't prevent a mega-watt smile creasing up his face as he recalled his momentous triumph at Carnoustie - and the thought of defending the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush in three months' time.

Next week the erection of The Open grandstands begins at the newly manicured Dunluce course as the Royal & Ancient crank up preparations for the first Championship to be held in Northern Ireland since a swashbuckling Max Faulkner triumphed at Portrush in 1951.

Italian Molinari knows the course, having tied 10th along with Rory McIlroy at the Irish Open there in 2012, and is relishing the opportunity of fighting for more glory before a passionate Irish golfing fraternity who surprised the R&A with the speed at which tickets were snapped up - leading to another 15,000 going on sale on April 15.

Molinari said: "I'm sure it's going to be an amazing atmosphere. It was impressive to see how quickly all the tickets were sold initially, so it's nice to see the R&A making more tickets available to the fans.

"I remember playing there in the Irish Open the year after Darren (Clarke) had won The Open and being paired with Darren in the first round, and it is something I still remember. I can only imagine what The Open is going to be like - it is going to be even bigger, going back to Northern Ireland after so many years.

"It is going to be nice for me, obviously - defending is always special - but defending in a place where the tournament has not been for so long I'm sure is going to be extra special.

"I've got nice memories from the course, from the town. I remember it being a fun week. I'm looking forward to going back there and seeing the changes to the course as well."

Last summer's triumph, when he was coolness personified as he held off the challenge of McIlroy, Justin Rose and a resurgent Tiger Woods on the final day, continues to sparkle joy in his veins and having tasted Major glory he is hungry for more - with his attention focused on next week's Masters at Augusta National.

Running parallel alongside such personal ambition is the bigger picture of a legacy he can leave for more young Italians with their own dreams, having been captivated by Molinari's triumph.

"It has been massive for me. A huge achievement and something that you dream of achieving as a kid. When you start playing as a professional you wonder if you're going to be good enough to get across the line, and it was an incredible week for me," added Molinari, whose brother Edoardo savoured his sibling's success.

"My brother came to visit me in London. Just to see his face, holding the Claret Jug... you could just see the pure joy and it is one of the most iconic trophies in sport, in golf. I remember as a kid, both of us, my brother and me, dreaming about only getting into Majors, so I think for him as well to hold the Claret Jug and to know that one of us had made it was an incredible feeling.

"I'm doing my best as a player to promote the game in Italy and we've got the Ryder Cup coming (in 2022). I just hope that as a country, we can make the most of it and introduce the game to a lot of youngsters that can become the future champions in golf.

"To be honest, I've achieved my dream - that was winning The Open last year. I've achieved another dream, that was to be one of the best players in the Ryder Cup and help Europe win the trophy back.

"I think, for me, winning is a huge motivation and spurs me on to do even more.

"The dream is to keep improving... I feel like I haven't reached my limit yet. So, the dream is to see how far I can go and hopefully get as many wins as possible along the way."

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