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Magnificent Molinari keeps his eyes on the prize

Francesco Molinari has come a long way since becoming the first wire-to-wire winner of the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in 2010.

This week the Italian returns to the scene of his triumph as the Open champion and runaway leader in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai. Barring a miracle, victory at Sheshan International on Sunday would virtually seal his place as Europe’s No1 with two tournaments still to go.

It is fair to say that not one player in the elite field would dare to underestimate the world No.6, such is the mark he has made on the game over the past six months.

Since winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May with a virtually flawless display of golf over the final 36 holes, Molinari has gone on to win the Quicken Loans National in the US with a record breaking score for the tournament; beaten a resurgent Tiger Woods down the stretch at the Open Championship at Carnoustie; and become the only European in history to win all five of his matches at the Ryder Cup.

Modest to a fault, Molinari, 35, is slightly bashful when asked to reflect on his astonishing summer of golf following a disappointing start to the season.

“When they are not playing well 90 per cent of the golfers on tour will tell you it’s just around the corner,” he said. “I really believed that, but in reality you never really know. Early in the season I wasn’t playing very well and it was frustrating because I felt I’d improved last year as a player but I wasn’t seeing the scores or the results.

“Winning at Wentworth definitely gave me a boost of confidence that carried into the summer. After that I went on to win the Quicken Loans event on the PGA Tour in America (he had a final round of 62 to win by seven strokes) and then it was like a snowball effect leading to the Open at Carnoustie and the Ryder Cup in France.”

A brilliant player from tee to green, Molinari can seem a relentless opponent when he is on a roll. The first Italian to win one of the four major championships, he has added valuable distance to his tee shots by increasing his clubhead speed and is deadly accurate with his irons. He also has an unflappable temperament that holds him in good stead when the pressure is at its most intense.

Tough and demanding, the magnificent Sheshan International course certainly identifies the world’s best players – as is revealed by a quick look at previous winners of the WGC-HSBC Champions – and Molinari is looking forward to the challenge.

“Because of the way I play the game, tough courses suit me,” he said. “It’s great to be leading the Race to Dubai and I want to try to win in Shanghai to get me closer to finishing the year as the European No.1. I’m quite tired after the run I’ve had, so I’ll take the next week off to prepare properly for the final event in Dubai.

“I’ll then have a seven-week break so I can put the clubs away and spend some time with the family at home in London. I haven’t had much time to sit down and reflect on the season so far, but there’s a real sense of achievement.”

That sense of achievement would be increased tenfold were Molinari to win on Sunday. One thing is for certain: nobody would be surprised.