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Molinari hopes Northern Irish energy will galvanise his Open title defence

Royal Portrush will host Northern Ireland’s first Open Championship since 1951.

Francesco Molinari has played down his hopes of retaining his Open Championship title (Jane Barlow/PA)
Francesco Molinari has played down his hopes of retaining his Open Championship title (Jane Barlow/PA)

Defending champion Francesco Molinari hopes to harness some of the energy of a Northern Irish crowd celebrating the return of the Open after 68 years in much the same way he did at the Ryder Cup.

The Italian was the standout player at Le Golf National last September, triumphant in all five of his matches and securing the point which won back the trophy.

One of the quietest, most unassuming players on tour, Molinari admits playing to the gallery is something which is alien to him but he hopes being the last winner of the Claret Jug and a Ryder Cup hero will provide a reciprocal benefit when he arrives at Royal Portrush next week.

“It is going to be an historic Open Championship for many reasons, which is even more reason for me to go there and just try to enjoy the experience and use the energy of the crowd for the week,” he said.

“You just try to get a feel for the people and that is something I did well at the Ryder Cup – it is not something which is natural to me, recognising how much they appreciate my game.”

Conversely, however, Molinari is playing down the defence of his Claret Jug.

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Molinari was the standout performer at last year’s Ryder Cup (Adam Davy/PA)

Wary of the amount of additional time is required from returning champion means the Italian has deliberately reduced his schedule in the weeks running up to the event.

Asked about the change, which has not seen him play since the Travelers Championship at the end of June Molinari said: “Recognising that going into a tournament as a defending champion is different and especially a major.

“I’m not going to play as much as I did last year, save as much energy as possible for the week.

“I think it is trying to keep the expectations down – it is a different experience to be there as defending champion, hopefully that is not the only time in my career when that happens.”

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Molinari won by two shots at Carnoustie in 2018 (Richard Sellers/PA)

Molinari could have arrived in Portrush as a two-time major winner had things gone better for him at Augusta where he led the Masters going into the final day and was two clear with seven holes remaining only to collapse and hand victory to Tiger Woods.

It was a chastening experience for the likeable Italian, who found the water twice on the back nine.

“It was a very different situation when you are leading. I fought well on the front nine without having my A-game, then unfortunately just a couple of mistakes on the back nine,” he added.

“It was the first time really I was leading a major on the Sunday.

“During the last round at Carnoustie (when he won the Open) Tiger made a run on the front nine, then made a couple of mistakes.

“I made a birdie on 14 and it was so late in the tournament you don’t have time to think about it, it was just four holes to go.”

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