AUGUSTA Ga. (Reuters) - The first time Francesco Molinari walked the Augusta National course he wore a caddie’s white boiler suit but on Friday the Italian put himself in prime position to leave the Masters wearing a Green Jacket.
The British Open champion, who served as caddie for his brother at the 2006 Masters, fired a five-under-par 67 that was his best-ever round at Augusta National and gave him a share of the second-round clubhouse lead.
After getting himself in a solid position heading into the weekend of the year’s first major, world number seven Molinari could not help but reflect on his remarkable journey from caddie to Masters contender.
“It was a great motivation to see how good the guys were and, at the same time, how much I needed to improve to hopefully one day get here,” said Molinari, who in 2006 was in his second year on the European Tour.
“But I mean at the time, to be honest, the goal was to maybe only be once in my career at Augusta, (that) already would have been an achievement for me.”
The Italian came into the Masters with three victories in a span of 12 PGA Tour starts yet was mostly overlooked as a contender since he has missed the cut here twice and also never finished better than his share of 19th in 2012.
But Molinari, 36, was full of confidence given his victory at Carnoustie last year where he became the first Italian to win a major. Last September he became the first European player to win all five of his matches at a Ryder Cup.
That sense of belief helped Molinari, who began the day four strokes behind overnight co-leaders Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau, follow his opening two-under-par 70 with a bogey-free trip around Augusta National.
Molinari, who last month shot a final-round 64 to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational, showcased a solid day off the tee, hit some quality irons and holed some nice putts.
While the Italian said his chance to caddie at Augusta National gave him motivation to improve his game he added it was also hard not getting a chance to swing a club that week.
“I have lots of memories,” Molinari said about tending to the bag as his brother missed the Masters cut in 2006. “Mostly the fact that I didn’t really enjoy caddying.
“I love being here and I love caddying for my brother, but it was just so hard to give him clubs, and it seemed a bit of a nightmare, you know, standing with the bag, waiting for him to hit the shots.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue; editing by Ken Ferris