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Molinari couldn't lose in U.S. Amateur

Knowing Masters bid was in the bag had calming effect

Thursday, April 06, 2006

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Edoardo Molinari had a unique perspective of his U.S. Amateur final that took all the heat off at Merion Golf Club.

Italian Edoardo Molinari did a psych job on himself to win the U.S. Amateur title. (Annette M. Drowlette/Staff)

"You want to win the final, but still there was much less pressure than the round before, because even if you lose the match you get a consolation prize," Molinari said.

Lose, and you still get to play the Masters Tournament.

"Win, and you get to play with Tiger," he said.

And so, the 25-year-old Italian with the engineering degree from Turin Tech will be teeing up today with four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods and Robert Allenby.

Molinari is thrilled for the opportunity. He met Woods once before, on the practice range at last year's British Open.

"I watched him practice from 15 feet away. It was impressive," he said.

Now he'll get to see it up close for two days on the grandest stage in golf.

"I'm a very calm person. Even if I get a bit nervous, I think I can still handle it," he said. "I've heard stories that Tiger is a very nice guy and makes you feel fine. So I think I'm going to have a lot of fun playing with him."

Molinari traveled to Augusta in October and March and played 10 rounds to get a feel for the course.

"First time was really a strange feeling because you've seen the course so many times on TV and then all of the sudden you can walk it and putt on the greens and hit shots," he said. "So it was a great feeling."

Of all the amateurs in the field, Molinari would seem to have the most immediate potential. A winner of amateur championships in the United States, Italy, Turkey and England, with runner-ups in Switzerland and Spain, he has taken his game around the world.

His game travels so well that he made it through every stage of British Open qualifying last year and made the cut at St. Andrews. He was tied for fifth through 33 holes before fading to finish 60th.

The experience in front of the British Open crowds should prove invaluable today when he tees it up with Woods.

"Playing the Open was a good thing, and playing at St. Andrews was even more special," Molinari said. "I think it will help me a lot this year in the three majors, especially because I played well in the first two days. I can be helped by already the experience of playing in majors under pressure."

If Molinari looks haggard as the week goes on, it has nothing to do with his accommodations in the Crow's Nest. Superstition prevents him from shaving during a tournament.

"I was playing well in the (1998) European Amateur, and I shaved before the third round and shot 79," he said. "I won't shave anymore during a tournament.

''It worked pretty well last year in the U.S. Amateur."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

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