Francesco Molinari ready to face Masters champion Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black

Francesco Molinari who will play in the 2019 USPGA at Bethpage Black
Francesco Molinari will take positive vibes from past performances in the USPGA to fire his bid for a second Major title at Bethpage Black. Picture by GETTY IMAGES

FRANCESCO Molinari is hoping to continue his impressive Major form at this week’s USPGA Championship, as The Open Champion prepares to once again tee it up alongside recently-crowned Masters winner Tiger Woods at Bethpage.

The Italian played side-by-side with Woods at Augusta National as the American famously claimed his 15thh Major title.

And Molinari is unlikely be distracted by the hype around his playing partner in New York this week as the 2018 Race to Dubai champion looks to continue his purple patch at golf’s big four.

In his last six Major appearances, Molinari has claimed a win, a runner-up, a top five and a top 10 – his worst result in that time a tied 25th finish at last year’s US Open.

He has performed well in the last two USPGA Championships too, so the 36-year-old will be quietly confident despite the daunting length of Bethpage’s Black Course, which hosted the US Open in 2002 and 2009.

Francesco Molinari said: “It’s just been a good relationship with this tournament, I guess, if you can call it that. I think I had my first top 10 in a Major at the USPGA, as well.

“Probably the set-up of the courses suit me, it’s usually important to hit fairways and hit greens.

“And it’s probably just the kind of courses and layouts that this championship has been played on, I think, that have suited my game well in the past. Hopefully I’ll keep that streak going this week.

“I guess you need more time really to digest everything from the last year,” added the Italian Ryder Cup hero at Paris’ Le Golf National against the Americans, in September.

“Fortunately things keep coming my way, and obviously I like it. I love and enjoy every single minute.

“I enjoyed last season, even before winning the Open at Carnoustie. It doesn’t seem like 10 months have been passed already since we were there at Carnoustie.

“It’s been great, and I think the job for me now is obviously to do my best to keep it going, and in a few years hopefully to reflect and look back, and appreciate what I managed to achieve in these last few months,” said Francesco Molinari.

Meanwhile, Hampshire’s Justin Rose will be hoping to end a 100-year winless streak for English players at this event.

The World No. 2 is looking to bounce back from a disappointing Masters, which belied a strong run of form in the opening months of 2019 – which the 2013 US Open champion blamed on a change in his preparation for the event.

Rose will be looking to add the Sam Wanamaker Trophy to his US Open crown and regain the World No. 1 spot from Dustin Johnson, who has the 2016 US Open as his sole Major victory.

He said: “I’m definitely happy with my form. But I’m also kind of working at it, as well.

“I think Charlotte was a nice bounce-back after Augusta for sure – a week where I worked hard at my game as well as being able to compete.

“I had a good week at home this last week. I felt like the preparation that I put in for Augusta didn’t go well, so I’ve tried to change it up a little bit coming in here.

“So I’m coming in a lot fresher. It’s a golf course that I know quite well here, said the North Hants GC member.

“I’ve played in ’09 and I played the two Barclays events here, as well.

“So I felt like it was a golf course I didn’t have to come up and research too much. I had some good notes in my yardage book.

“So last week was about freshening up but also working really hard. Had all my team come down and practice with me at home.

“I’m feeling good, feeling ready, and looking forward to getting going tomorrow,” added Rose, who has regular caddy “Fooch” back on the bag after his return at Augusta, following a major heart operation during the winter.

Schauffele plays down hopes of first Major

MASTERS runner-up Xander Schauffele, who had to bow before the legend that is Tiger Woods at Augusta National, is many people’s tip to break into the winner’s circle at the Majors during 2019.

But Schauffele is not getting carried away by all the talk about his prospects, despite his victory at the Tour Championship at East Lake, in 2017.

He said: “I’m not really at a point where I’m walking out here with a huge head thinking I’m the big guy.

“I still feel like I’ve got to do all my homework and kind of keep my head down.”

“Plow right through is not what comes to mind when thinking of this course. I played 27 holes and it’s pretty straightforward.

“You have to golf your ball, and you definitely can’t fake it out here. Everything is right in front of you, and you’ve just got to go get it.

“I think everyone is sort of adjusting to the new schedule. I think we’re pretty excited about it.

“It’s nice to have one major a month, and it sort of rewards a good stretch of golf if you have it in you.

“Hopefully we can sort of trickle off what we did a month back,” said the San Diego pro.

“I haven’t looked at past scores and I don’t really know what to expect of scores coming out on Thursday.

“I’m glad that the weather is warming up a little bit or the back nine will be a little rough, but I think overall, I have the same happy-go-lucky attitude.”

Last year’s US Open winner Brooks Koepka is the defending champion this week after his victory at Bellerive, in St Louis, having had to wait just eight months to put the Wanamaker Trophy on the line.

For live scoring in the first round of the USPA click here.

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