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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Francesco Molinari, once a Masters caddie, is now tied for the lead

The Italian caddied for his older brother Edoardo when he played in the 2006 Masters as the U.S. Amateur champion

Francesco Molinari walks off the 18th green during

Francesco Molinari walks off the 18th green during the second round of The Masters on Friday in Augusta, Ga. Photo Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It is entirely possible that Francesco Molinari soon will be able to say that he began his Masters career dressed in the white jumpsuit of an Augusta National caddie and graduated to a green jacket.

He is more than happy to take his chances swinging clubs than carrying them, which he did for his older brother Edoardo in the 2006 Masters. “Great experience. I didn’t learn a lot, to be honest, about the course, because we were going sideways most of the time,” he said. “It’s not great fun to caddie around here, I can tell you that.”

So, he is impressed with the work of his own caddie, Pello Iguaran, who helped him win the British Open last July. On Friday at Augusta, the two of them together plotted strategy, read putts (especially a wild-angled downhiller on No. 18) and contributed to Molinari finishing the second round of the Masters at 7 under, tied with four others for the lead.

All told, the day showed why Molinari quietly has become one of the world’s most dominant golfers.

Molinari is not afraid to accept a challenge, having followed through on a childhood promise to caddie for Edoardo (nicknamed Dodo) should the latter ever qualify for the Masters. That became a reality when the older brother won the 2005 U.S. Amateur. Thus, there was Francesco, walking up and down Augusta’s steep hills in a group that included Tiger Woods.

“I carried the clubs and prayed that he would hit good shots,” Molinari said. When he was asked on Friday, after he made five birdies and 13 pars for a round of 67, what memories he still carries from that week, he added, “Mostly the fact that I didn’t really enjoy caddying. I love being here and I loved caddying for my brother, but it was just so hard to give him clubs. And it seemed a bit of a nightmare, you know, standing with the bag, waiting for him to hit the shots.”

Francesco took on another challenge last year, jeopardizing his place on the European Ryder Cup team by choosing to play in the PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans National outside Washington D.C. rather than the European Tour’s French Open. He made the choice because he wanted to improve his standing in the FedEx Cup points race. He won the Quicken Loans and used that momentum to become Italy’s first British Open champion, holding off Woods in the final round.

In the fall, he became the first European player to go 5-0 in the Ryder Cup.

He is perhaps the best player in the world right now. He at least might be tied with Brooks Koepka as the best to receive little acclaim. “There’s obviously loads of great players in golf right now and you know, I think I’m getting the attention that I deserve,” Molinari said. “It’s not something that I seek or that I want desperately.

“I’m happy to go about my business and keep playing good golf. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.”

Focus is what drove him to the gym to gain strength, having once played a British Open round with Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy and determining “I didn’t stand a chance really” because he didn’t drive the ball far enough.

Focus is what convinced him to change his putting setup, path, tempo and putter shape. “Pretty much I could have started putting lefthanded, it would have been a similar process,” he said.

Focus and a strong dose of imagination allowed him to lag a 75-footer from the back of the 18th green Friday, aiming it way left, off the fringe and allowing it to break down to the right.

“I think it looks more spectacular than it actually is,” he said. “You hit it in the left fringe and it goes usually within five feet of the hole.”

He rolled it within three feet, made the par and walked off with momentum for the weekend, happy that he only has to try to win the Masters instead of having to caddie in it.

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