Italian star Francesco Molinari is looking to get back to his native land for a visit, but it hasn’t been that easy because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Molinari played just five tournaments on the PGA Tour after the start of the 2020 calendar year, with the tour suspending play in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he wasn’t able to get home.
“Like, January to November, I think I played maybe four or five events. So, yeah, I don’t know, it wasn’t something I planned before,” said Molinari, the 2018 British Open champion. “It’s just kind of a run of events. We didn’t start the year great last year and then got injured at Bay Hill and then obviously COVID kind of struck at The Players, and then a lot more has happened since.”
With travel restrictions, Molinari has not been to Italy in more than a year.
“The plan as a family, definitely, I guess, no matter how the situation is, to go back for the summer, because we haven’t seen our families since Christmas,” Molinari said. “Not this Christmas, the one before. So it’s been a long time, it will be a year and a half in the summer that we haven’t seen them.”
Molinari has played his way into contention in The American Express this week, tied for eighth at 12-under 204 and just three shots out of the lead starting Sunday’s final round.
“It’s nice to be back playing, definitely,” he said. “Energies are high, because in a normal season, I would have played probably, I don’t know, 25 events. And it definitely was good for the body and for the mind to kind of take a break, take a step back and start this year with plenty of energy and wanting to do well.”
But as he played in the desert this week — he has shot rounds of 69, 66 and 69 — Molinari is still thinking about a summer trip home.
“Obviously, I’m hoping for things to be a bit better by the summer and obviously playing The Open Championship, maybe play a couple more events in Europe then,” he said. “But, yeah, until probably after the U.S. Open, we’ll be here in the U.S.”
You don’t see that very often
In an era on the PGA Tour where putting grips are as varied as the color of the shirts players are wearing, here’s a surprise: Tony Finau is once again using a conventional putting grip.
“This week, I’m putting conventionally. I haven’t done that since 2018. So it’s been like about two — sorry 2019 — it’s been like two years,” Finau said. “I went back to it. It just felt good this week. I didn’t know what it was, that I was going to put conventionally.
“I had the charity match with Phil and Casey and those guys (Wednesday), and I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to try it out,’ ” Finau added. “It felt pretty good there, and I threw it in for the first three rounds, and it seems to be working so far.”
Finau is ninth in the tournament through three rounds in stroke gain: putting, the best among the three co-leaders.
Defending the title
It wasn’t the best day for defending champion Andrew Landry at The American Express, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
Landry started the day at 5-under par, well off the lead but still playing on the weekend. Then Landry bogeyed his second hole of the day, the par-5 11th. Two holes later, Landry put his tee shot on the par-3 13th into the water on the way to a triple-bogey 6. That put Landry 4-over through four holes.
But the 2020 winner and 2018 runner-up rallied to close with five pars on the back nine, then shot 34 on the front nine for a 2-over 74 and a 3-under total for the week.
The only player to win The American Express in consecutive years was Johnny Miller in 1975-76.
Hoffman bows out
Charley Hoffman, the 2007 American Express winner, was in position to make a run at a solid finish again this year. But at 8-under par through two holes Saturday, Hoffman withdrew from the tournament with what was described as a back injury.
Hoffman’s withdrawal leaves only Andrew Landry and Adam Long in the field as past champions of the event.