Molinari looking forward to Open challenge
Francesco Molinari says he is ready for a special Open Championship defence in Northern Ireland this week.
Molinari became the first Italian player to win a major last season when triumphing at the 2018 Open at Carnoustie and so will be aiming to become the first player since Padraig Harrington in 2008 to retain the Claret Jug this week.
The 36-year-old, who made Ryder Cup history last year when becoming the only European player to win all five matches, has not played since last month's Travelers Championship and is excited ahead of the event at Royal Portrush.
"Any week you defend it's special, but this week will be extra special," he said at his news conference on Monday after the pairings for the first two days were announced. "I just want to enjoy it as much as possible and, like I did at the Ryder Cup, I want to soak in the atmosphere."
Molinari will be teeing it up alongside American Bryson DeChambeau and Australian Adam Scott, who famously blew a four-shot lead going into the final round of the 2012 Open, over the first two days.
Of the other notable tee times, Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy has been drawn with Paul Casey and Gary Woodland, while world number one Brooks Koepka plays alongside South African Louis Oosthuizen and India's Shubhankar Sharma.
James Mason grew up in Northumberland so is entrenched in both the football and golf scenes. A low handicap golfer, he also follows Newcastle United and predicts big things under Rafa Benitez.