European Tour champions Matteo Manassero and Francesco Molinari will carry the hopes of the host nation this week as the BMW Italian Open presented by CartaSi returns to the Royal Park I Roveri, basking in the afterglow of a phenomenal year for Italian golf.
The emergence of Manassero on the global stage following his wins in Spain and Malaysia has been a wonderful fillip to the staggering achievement of the Molinari brothers, who became the first siblings to represent Europe in The Ryder Cup in Wales last year.
Between them, Manassero and Francesco Molinari have won three European Tour titles since last year’s BMW Italian Open – the latter picking off a prized World Golf Championships event in the process - to underline Italy’s new-found prominence on the golfing map.
The teenage Manassero, who hit his first shot as a professional in the corresponding event at Royal Park last year, went on to win his first title in October before being named as the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year. In capturing the CASTELLÓ MASTERS Costa Azahar, Manassero became the youngest winner in the history of The European Tour.
A further success in this year’s Maybank Malaysian Open was completed just two days before his 18th birthday, confirming the young man from Verona as a major global talent.
The focus this week falls squarely on the shoulders of Manassero and the younger of the Molinari brothers, who was the last home player to taste sweet success in the Italian Open five years ago.
The pair compete into the second BMW tournament in the space of three weeks following the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club, where Manassero contended for the title before finishing tied seventh.
He said: “My first full year as a professional has been more than I could ever have imagined. Since the day I hit my first tee shot at Royal Park it has been a very special year and last week emphasised that when I received the Rookie of the Year Award.
“It is exciting to be back in Turin for the BMW Italian Open. The local crowds love to see an Italian winner and I can still remember watching Francesco winning in 2006 and feeling very excited as no Italian had won for a very long time. We will both be trying very hard again.
“It would be fantastic to put my name on the trophy alongside Francesco’s. Winning my home Open is definitely something I want to achieve sometime in my career.”
Molinari already has his name engraved on the trophy after that success in Milan five years ago, and he has subsequently set new standards by becoming the first Italian golfer to land one of the prestigious World Golf Championships by capturing the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, last November.
Now based in England but still a much-loved son of Turin, Molinari commented: “BMW events are always tremendous from the PGA Championship to the BMW Italian Open and the BMW International Open all being played in the space of a month.
“I didn’t play last year but I am really looking forward to getting back to Turin, playing in front of my home crowd and trying to repeat my win from 2006. That was my first victory as a professional and was a very special moment – achieving it in front of so many friends and family.”
One man looking to put a halt on the Italian golfing juggernaut this week will be the defending champion, Fredrik Andersson-Hed of Sweden, who dominated the event for the first three rounds before eventually finishing two strokes clear of Englishman David Horsey.
Andersson-Hed may not have been enjoying the most productive spell of form lately, but he is hoping that the positive memories of his first European Tour victory, coupled with a golf course that very much suits his eye,
“It's going to be a great week to come back to, a great place to come back to,” said the Swede.
“Unfortunately I played pretty bad the last couple of months, so I'm actually not coming in with a good feeling into the tournament. But hopefully that could change around with a bit of practise over the weekend, and good feelings from last year.
“Last year the golf course was in fantastic condition, especially the greens. Even though they had a lot of rain, especially on the Wednesday before the tournament, the course was still in good condition.”
Also in the field is another of Italy’s favourite sons, Costantino Rocca, and a number of Ryder Cup players in Thomas Björn, David Howell and Paul McGinley.