The last time Francesco Molinari competed in China, he and his brother made history as Italy won the World Cup for the first time.
Almost a year on and Italian golf is still riding high on that same wave with Francesco leading the WGC - HSBC Champions after a stunning seven under par 65 at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
The victory of the Molinari brothers in the Omega Mission Hills World Cup told the world the Italians had arrived. The signs were there with Edoardo’s victory in the US Amateur Championship in 2005 before he topped the Challenge Tour Rankings in 2009, with Matteo Manassero’s historic Amateur Championship win and his stunning performance in The 2009 Open Championship and Francesco’s home triumph a couple of years earlier in the Italian Open.
And over the past 12 months the Italian stock has continued to rise with Francesco developing into one of the game’s strongest iron players displaying a level of consistency that has yielded two runners-up finishes anmong nine top tens this season while Edoardo has won twice and together they became the first brothers from continental Europe to compete in The Ryder Cup last month. And then, just a few weeks ago, Manassero won his first European Tour title by winning the CASTELLO MASTERS Costa Azahar to become the youngest champion in history as well as the youngest European Tour Member.
It is therefore no surprise to see Francesco sitting on top of the leaderboard after the opening round in Shanghai, looking down on the new World Number One Lee Westwood and the other contenders for the coveted top spot.
“Whenever we play over here we play on great courses,” said Molinari when asked what he likes about competing in China. “I have played here twice before and finished tenth or 11th. It’s just a course I like, just like Mission Hills.”
And as for what made Shanghai unique, Molinari picked out the atmosphere at an event billed as Asia’s Major.
“There's a different atmosphere, because obviously golf is growing very fast in China and it's very nice to play here with so many Chinese following and trying to learn something about the game.”
Molinari didn’t put a foot wrong in picking up seven birdies, which included a chip in on the third to begin a run of four successive birdies.
“It was obviously a good round. Conditions were perfect. The course is in great shape, so the greens were rolling absolutely pure. And I played well. I putted well. So everything seems in the right place at the moment.”