Primer: 2018 Italian Open

Credit: Getty Images/Stuart Franklin

One major British star down, two more ahead.

That’s the challenge at this week’s Italian Open for country’s biggest golf star, Francesco Molinari, who set the stage last week by topping Rory McIlroy to win the BMW PGA Championship.

Credit: Getty Images/Andrew Reddington

Going back-to-back would make this the pinnacle period in his 15-year career thus far on the European Tour. He’s already the only Italian to have won his national championship two times — most recently in 2016 — and this event usually draws out the best in his game.

Standing in Molinari’s way is a solid field of international players, including 12 players appearing on the world top-50 list.

The biggest obstacles would appear to be two Englishmen – Tommy Fleetwood, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 11, and the Italian Open’s defending champ, world No. 22 Tyrrell Hatton, who himself was in the best stretch of his young career when he won just eight months ago, as the 2017 event was played in October.

The strong English contingent also include Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Ross Fisher, all of whom are ranked in the world top 50.

But sentiment and momentum will be high for Molinari at scenic Gardagolf Country Club in northern Italy. He considered last week’s win to be the biggest of his career, but becoming the first player to win consecutive Rolex Series events and doing it by winning his national title for the third time would probably stand right along side of it.

Here are more details about this week’s 75th Italian Open.


THE SKINNY

Tournament: Italian Open
Dates: May 31-June 3, 2018
Where: Brescia, Italy
Course: Gardagolf Country Club
Distance: Par 71, 7,201 yards
Architect: Cotton and Penninck, Steel & Partners
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Purse: $7,000,000
Winning Share: $1,166,660
Defending Champion: Tyrrell Hatton
Marquee Players: Hatton, Francesco Molinari, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Ross Fisher, Haotong Li, Alexander Levy, Dylan Frittelli, Thomas Pieters, Thongchai Jaidee, Chris Wood, Matteo Manassero, Alexander Bjork, Matt Wallace, Eddie Pepperell, Joost Luiten, Wade Ormsby, Paul Dunne, Lucas Bjerregaard, Martin Kaymer, Miguel Angel Jimenez


TV AND ONLINE

Round 1: Thu 4:30 am-12:30 pm (GOLF)
Round 2: Fri 4:30 am-12:30 pm (GOLF)
Round 3: Sat 6:30-11:30 am (GOLF)
Round 4: Sun 6:30-11:30 am (GOLF)
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HISTORY

The Italian Open is Italy’s national championship, and is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It has been contested at 25 different venues over the years, most frequently at Circolo Golf Villa d’Este, which has hosted the championship 12 times, most recently in 1972, the first year it was part of the European Tour.

Credit: Getty Images/Stuart Franklin

The Open is one of only six events to be played every year since the European Tour was established. It is at Gardagolf this year, but the last three years has been played at Milano. The last time it was played at Gardagolf was in 2003, when Mathias Gronberg captured the title, finishing at 17-under par.

The Italian Open got a boost last year, when it was included as part of the European Tour’s elite Rolex Series, further increasing its profile and prize money.

A number of major champions have won the event over the years, including Sir Henry Cotton (1936), Peter Thomson (1959), Tony Jacklin (1973), Billy Casper (1975), Bernhard Langer (1983, 1997), Sandy Lyle (1984, 1992), Greg Norman (1988) and Graeme McDowell (2004).

The only Italian players to win the title since 1972 are Francesco Molinari, with victories in 2006 and 2016, Massimo Mannelli in 1980 and Baldovino Dassu in 1976.

The tournament was on hiatus from 1961-70, before being revived in 1971.
TOURNAMENT NAMES

1925-18: Italian Open

RECENT WINNERS

2017: Tyrrell Hatton (-21)
2016: Francesco Molinari (-22)
2015: Rikard Karlberg (-19)
2014: Hennie Otto (-20)
2013: Julien Quesne (-12)
2012: Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (-24)
2011: Robert Rock (-21)

TOURNAMENT SCORING RECORDS

SCORING
262 Percy Alliss (1935), Francesco Molinari (2016), (-25) Hennie Otto (2008)
WINS
4 – Auguste Boyer (1926, 1928, 1930-31), Flory Van Donck (1938, 1947, 1953, 1955)


DEFENDING CHAMPION

Tyrrell Hatton claimed the 2017 Italian Open title, one week after capturing the Dunhill Links Championship, making him the 2017 season’s only back-to-back winner on the European Tour.

Credit: Getty Images/Christopher Lee

The Englishman arrived at the 18th hole on Sunday tied with clubhouse leaders Ross Fisher and Kiradech Aphibarnrat at 20-under par. But after Hatton drained a 15-foot bender for birdie, he was at 21 under and holding the champion’s trophy for the second-straight week.

Hatton’s 6-under 65 included five birdies over the final seven holes.

“I’m a little overwhelmed right now,” said Hatton afterwards, who had moved up to No 17 in the world with the win.

“My caddie (Jonathan Bell) told me it would happen for me if I stayed patient but I can’t believe I’ve won again. It was amazing to see that last putt drop. My hands were shaking, my knees were shaking but they’re the feelings you want to have. Now I just want to soak it all in.”

Fisher, who posted a low-round 63, finished tied for second with Thailand’s Aphibarnrat (65).

Matt Wallace (69) and Marcus Fraser (65) rounded out the top 5 at Milano Golf Club.

FINAL TOP 10

1 Tyrrell Hatton -21
2 Kiradech Aphibarnrat -20
2 Ross Fisher -20
4 Matt Wallace -19
5 Marcus Fraser -18
6 Francesco Molinari -17
6 George Coetzee -17
6 David Horsey -17
6 Tommy Fleetwood -17
10 Michael Lorenzo-Vera -16
10 Miguel Jimenez -16
10 Eddie Pepperell -16
10 Marc Warren -16
10 Nino Bertasio -16


THE FIELD: ANALYSIS

There’s no doubt the spotlight will be on Francesco Molinari, whose victory last week at the BMW PGA Championship returned him to the world top 20 for the first time since the Italian Open was last played, in October of 2017.

Credit: Getty Images/Andrew Reddington

Molinari probably already owns this laurel, but a victory this week would secure his status as the greatest Italian golfer in history. He was the youngest winner in Italian Open history when he won in 2006, and his aggregate score of 262 in winning in 2016 is tied for the lowest in event history.

Molinari was a regular contender annually for this title between his victory in 2006 and 2011, placing in the top 10 three more times in that span. He then reemerged with his win in 2016, followed by a sixth-place finish last October.

Defending champ Tyrrell Hatton has not played well since a pair of top 10 finishes in the WGC events earlier this year, failing to crack even the top 40 in any start since March. He had a wrist injury that bothered him last week at the BMW PGA, where he missed the cut, but says he is healthy again for his title defense this week.

Credit: Getty Images/Stuart Franklin

World No. 11 Tommy Fleetwood looks to be the strongest challenger for Molinari to watch out for coming in. Fleetwood’s last two starts include a tie for 7th at THE PLAYERS Championship and a tie for 20th at the BMW PGA. He also posted a tie for sixth, just four shots behind the winning score, in last year’s Italian Open.

Swede Alex Noren, the world’s No. 17 player, comes to Italy with a track record of strong finishes all throughout the first half of this year. Most recently, he shared third place at the BMW PGA and was tied for 17th at THE PLAYERS. The missing piece of the puzzle for Noren would be a victory, something he hasn’t tasted since the 2017 BMW PGA.

World No. 41 Ross Fisher finished in a tie for second at last year’s Italian Open, so he could have a comfort level this week. He also had a strong showing last week, posting a tie for 8th at the BMW PGA.

Credit: Getty Images/Andrew Reddington

Two Italian players, Nino Bertasio and Matteo Manassero, represent the host club on the European Tour, although it will be their first time competing on the course professionally.

Bertasio is ranked No. 302 in the world and Manassero is No. 419. The only other Italian player currently in the world top 200 is Renato Paratore, ranked No. 189. He does have a pair of top 10 finishes in European Tour events in 2018.

Lorenzo Gagli, an Italian who is leading the European Challenge Tour’s 2018 Road to Ras Al Khaimah rankings, is an invite into this week’s field. He’s currently 288th in the world.

Francesco Molinari’s older brother, Edoardo Molinari, will also be competing at Gardagolf. He’s currently ranked No. 381 in the world. In total, there will be a contingent of 13 Italians in the field playing for their national championship.


FIELD: ODDS & RANKINGS


Credits: European Tour Media, Getty Images



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