Molinari focusing on RBC Heritage after letdown at Masters

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Francesco Molinari feels worn out after collapsing on the final nine at the Masters last week and is looking to conjure up the mental energy to compete at the RBC Heritage.

Molinari, the reigning British Open champion, carried a two-stroke lead with seven holes left before a pair of uncharacteristic mistakes. He landed shots in the water on the 12th and 15th holes for two double-bogeys at Augusta National that dropped him from contention into a tie for fifth, two shots behind winner Tiger Woods.

Molinari acknowledged Wednesday that he is still seeking the spark to move past last Sunday and get him going at Harbour Town Golf Links.

“You try,” he said. “You’re never quite sure how long that’s going to take.”

Molinari won’t have long if he plans to contend. He faces another stacked field that includes Masters’ runner ups and Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele, along with Webb Simpson, who finished tied with Molinari.

In all, 11 of the top 30 players in the world, led by No. 1 Johnson, will tee it up to start Thursday.

Woods, who has only played in one RBC Heritage in 1999, is off this week.

Molinari said his mistakes were straightforward and easy enough to diagnose with a bad swing on the par-3 12th and a bad choice on the part-5 15th.

“But more than that, my concern is just having the mental energies to perform this week and be competitive against a really strong field. That will be the challenge for me,” he said.

Molinari, 36, has been a revelation, especially in majors, the last two seasons. He’s posted four top six finishes, including his British Open win at Carnoustie last July, over his past six major tournaments after never finishing better than ninth in his first 32 such appearances.

Johnson was pleased with his performance at Augusta, despite missing a birdie putt on the 72nd hole that might have tied him with Woods.

“Obviously, one stroke, definitely could’ve found that somewhere,” Johnson said. “But all in all, it was a good week and I played well when I needed to.”

Johnson, a South Carolina native, returned to Harbour Town last year for the first time in almost a decade and finished tied for 16th, his best RBC Heritage showing in three appearances. The speculation on Johnson’s extended absence are similar to theories about why Woods does not play here — tight, unforgiving fairways where positioning shots is as important as bombing them a long way.

“If I’m playing well, I enjoy any golf course,” Johnson countered. “If I’m hitting the ball where I want to, no matter what type of course it is, I like it. This is the kind of golf I grew up playing. It’s something I’m used to. Last year, I had some success and I’m looking to have some more success this year.”

Simpson, too, believes his strong play at the Masters can continue this week. One of his two top-five career finishes at Harbour Town came last year.

“I know what to do around this golf course,” he said. “It’s kind of a quirky, tricky golf course, but I always love being here.”

Despite last week’s events, Molinari said he carries much more confidence into all his tournaments these days. His three PGA Tour victories have all come since last July, including a win last month at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I’ve never been a guy who showed up on tour and started winning straight away,” Molinari said. “Definitely the last few steps have been more mental rather than technical or anything else.”

Molinari, ranked seventh in the world, will put that to the test when this tournament ends with three weeks off before returning to action at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in New York. Molinari backed up his British Open win with a sixth at the PGA last August and is anxious for the next one.

“I’ll analyze with a colder mind what happened (at the Masters) and just move forward toward Bethpage,” Molinari said.

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