Matteo Manassero, who recently confirmed his return to form with a top-three finish in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open at Castle Stuart, which also booked his ticket to Troon for the Open, isn’t the only Italian who has endured a spell in the golfing wilderness, writes Martin Dempster.
Cast your mind back six years and you’ll probably recall that the Home of Golf proved the happiest of hunting grounds for one of Manassero’s compatriots. Not only did Edoardo Molinari land his breakthrough European Tour win in the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond that year but he also then added a second success, in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, just a few weeks later. The latter led Colin Montgomerie, the European captain, to pick Molinari ahead of two vastly more experienced campaigners, Padraig Harrington and Paul Casey, for the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, where the Turin-born player enjoyed the added thrill of having his older brother, Francesco, among his team-mates. “As the Scottish Open was my first European Tour win and a big one, it will always be pretty special but so, too, for different reasons will be the Johnnie Walker Championship,” said Molinari, pictured, as he recalled his dream double ahead of a return to Scotland this week for the Aberdeen Asset Management Paul Lawrie Match Play at Archerfield Links in East Lothian.
“I was playing really well that summer and I was expecting to do well in that event, especially as Gleneagles is a course I’ve always liked. Of course, it was the last counting event for the Ryder Cup and, even if I didn’t have a chance of qualifying automatically for the team, I was win a position where I was able to force Monty to give me one of his wild cards and, of course, that’s exactly what happened.
“You always want to make a Ryder Cup team, but, when your brother has already made it, as was the case with Francesco that year, it gives you extra motivation to make the team, too. It was very special to play on the same Ryder Cup team as your brother. Indeed, it’s something that might not happen for many years.” While Francesco has a chance of earning one of Darren Clarke’s picks for September’s match at Hazeltine, Edoardo is well out of the Ryder Cup reckoning on this occasion. Having finished as high as 11th on the European Tour money list in 2010, he slipped to 158th last season and was forced to return to the Qualifying School to retain his card. Having missed eight cuts in a row at the start of the year – in fairness, he’s since suffered that fate just once in his last nine outings – he currently sits 155th in the Race to Dubai and is facing a similar battle this season.
“To be honest, I’ve not played well in the first part of the year, but it has been a bit better the last few weeks. Hopefully, the next few weeks I can secure some good results and keep getting better,” said Molinari, who suffered a serious wrist injury in 2013 but recovered to finish 40th in the European rankings the following year. “I can definitely see that my game is coming back. When you play poorly for a period of time, it’s a matter of confidence. It is going to take a little bit of time but I am definitely starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.”
The second Paul Lawrie Match Play – Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, the winner at Murcar Links 12 months ago, is unable to defend the title due to the fact he’s heading to Rio for the Olympics – has attracted an intriguing 64-man field. It includes three players inside the world’s top 50 – Chris Wood, Matt Fitzpatrick and Scottish Open champion Alex Noren – as well as six Ryder Cup players in Lawrie, Molinari, Thomas Bjorn, Stephen Gallacher, David Howell and Oliver Wilson. “I think it will be a great event, both for the spectators (adult daily entrance costs just £15, with that also securing free admission to the Scottish Seniors at the same venue on 19-21 August) and on TV,” predicted Molinari, who showed his liking for match play when winning the US Amateur in 2005. “There is always something that matters from Thursday onwards. Also, whereas sometimes golf on TV on Thursday and Friday can be a little bit boring, next week will be exciting from the off.”