A year after securing the victory which effectively sealed his place in Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup Team, Italy’s Edoardo Molinari returns to Perthshire this week to defend his crown in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
Twelve months ago, Molinari captured his second European Tour title on Scottish soil with a thrilling display on the final day at The Gleneagles Hotel, where he birdied the last three holes to edge out Australian Brett Rumford by a single stroke.
That fearless performance persuaded Europe’s Captain Colin Montgomerie to award one of his three wildcard picks to the Italian, who became the first player in history to play in The Ryder Cup the year after graduating from the Challenge Tour.
Molinari went on to play his part alongside younger brother Francesco in Europe’s triumph at The Celtic Manor Resort, and the two siblings will be keen to resume their partnership when The Ryder Cup touches down at The Gleneagles Hotel in 2014.
In the immediate future, however, Molinari is hoping to continue his love affair with the Home of Golf, having preceded his win at last year’s Johnnie Walker Championship with his debut European Tour victory at the Barclays Scottish Open.
Molinari said: “Defending my title at Gleneagles is a big priority – it’s a great tournament and I really like the course, which will be a great venue for The 2014 Ryder Cup.
“I like playing in Scotland, and I’m sure the Scottish crowds will be unbelievable to me again, just like they were last year. They are the most knowledgeable crowd that we play in front of.”
The Molinari brothers were paired together in the final group last year, but Francesco ultimately had to settle for finishing in a tie for third place as his elder brother stole the glory.
Both will be bidding to capture their third European Tour titles, although Francesco is also eyeing a family first this week.
He said: “So far Edoardo has had all the success in Scotland, and I’m keen to follow his example this year. We’ve won a number of tournaments between us but have yet to win the same title, so that’s what I’ll be aiming for this week.”
Home hopes include tournament host Montgomerie, whose otherwise glittering CV is yet to include victory in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles.
Indeed, the only Scotsman to have lifted the trophy since the event’s inception in 1999 is Marc Warren, who took the title two months before partnering Montgomerie to glory at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in 2007.
Warren, who was recently made a tournament ambassador by the sponsors, has since struggled to reach the same dizzy heights, but the 30 year old is hopeful a return to the scene of his triumph will inspire him to recapture former glories.
He said: “It’s nice to go back to a tournament as former champion anywhere in the world, but when it’s in your home country, it’s extra special. I played at Gleneagles a couple of times during my break recently and the course was in great condition, so I can’t wait to get there. I’ve got my win on DVD, so I’m sure I’ll be watching it once or twice in the build-up to the tournament.
“Sometimes winning can be a lonely experience, because you’re the last person to leave the course. But because I had so many friends and family there for my win at Gleneagles, it was a really special experience. I’m sure a few of them will be coming along this week, which will be a great boost for my confidence. I feel like I’ve been playing myself into some form over the past few weeks, so hopefully the tournament’s come at just the right time.”
Another former winner in the field is Søren Kjeldsen, who captured his first European Tour title when he held off home hero Alastair Forsyth by two strokes in 2003.
Since then the Dane has collected two further European Tour titles, but will always recall his maiden victory with particular fondness.
Kjeldsen said: “Gleneagles is a great venue – it’s a beautiful part of the world, and some of the views are spectacular. I’ve got great memories of my first victory there, so I always look forward to going back. I remember it being really windy – I think the cut was plus five or plus six – but that probably suited my game, so I’m hoping for windy weather again this week.
“I went into the final day with a five-shot lead and almost got caught on the front nine, but played really well on the back nine to get the job done. It was a very special feeling, and hopefully I’ll be in contention again on Sunday afternoon.”
Other illustrious names in the star-studded field include the Molinaris’ fellow Ryder Cup star Ross Fisher of England, plus two of Montgomerie’s Vice Captains in Denmark’s Thomas Björn and the in-form Irishman Paul McGinley, and the man who will succeed him as Captain, Spaniard José-Maria Olazábal.