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Molinari is on a mission at The Open to sprinkle some more magic and retain coveted crown

Handing over: Francesco Molinari returns the Claret Jug to
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of the R&A
Handing over: Francesco Molinari returns the Claret Jug to Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of the R&A

By Carl Markham

Open champion Francesco Molinari has spoken of coming in under the radar for his title defence, but he even admits his children may not notice the most famous image of him in Portrush.

The 36-year-old's focus will be on the Northern Ireland links which hosts the Championship for the first time since 1951 as he looks to retain the Claret Jug he won at Carnoustie.

However, son Tommaso and daughter Emma are likely to have eyes only for the local Italian ice cream parlour, which has paid tribute to their father with a mosaic on the wall made up entirely of sugar sprinkles.

It may be an impressive feat of decoration, but Molinari has no plans to visit and does not expect it to register with his youngsters.

"I've seen it on Twitter, online, yeah. I don't have any plans (to visit) now. Obviously it's a busy week," he said. "But my family is coming out later on in the week, so it might be a good treat with the kids. They'll be happy getting ice cream - they probably won't even notice what's on the wall!"

As if his Open win was not enough, Molinari's profile went through the roof at last year's Ryder Cup, where he formed a formidable partnership with Tommy Fleetwood, winning all four matches they played together on his way to registering five points in total.

But while the Italian has a Major under his belt, his good friend is still searching for one, coming closest in successive top-four finishes in the 2017 and 2018 US Opens.

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However, Molinari is backing the Southport golfer to come good.

"I think it's not as straightforward as some people think it can be," he said. "There's a lot of great players out here and he's definitely one of them, but he's still very young.

"I think he's doing all the right things. I'm sure his time will come very soon."

By his own admission, Fleetwood believes he is reaching the peak age at which to make the most of his talent.

But he admits trying too hard to win one of golf's premier events is usually detrimental.

So far this season his best result is a tie for 36th at The Masters, and the 28-year-old also failed to convert good chances to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship earlier in the year.

"You can't really force four tournaments a year. You can prepare as well as you possibly can and then you have to play well in those weeks," he said.

"When you get to a certain point in the world rankings and play week in, week out with the best players in the world, every single one of the Majors becomes an opportunity to win a Major.

"I haven't really been close this year, but I've played some consistent stuff in other events.

"I'm 28, your career is a long time. We're not tennis players or football players. At the moment I'm just about reaching what should be my peak year.

"Majors are always going to be there and always the ones that everybody wants to win, but putting the urgency or putting too much pressure on yourself is not going to do yourself any favours.

"Just keep doing things as well as you can and hopefully one, two, three Majors come along."

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