Meet the Italian Trio off to Surprisingly Stellar Starts at 2014 British Open

Brendan O'Meara@@BrendanOMearaFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2014

Matteo Manassero leads the three Italian players on the leaderboard.
Matteo Manassero leads the three Italian players on the leaderboard.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

Something out of the ordinary happened around 9 a.m. ET. It wasn’t Rory McIlroy atop the leaderboard on Day 1. (His Day 1 rock to his Day 2 roll has been the talk of legend already.)

No, it wasn’t McIlroy's flawless round of 66, it was the flags on the leaderboard.

Three of the top eight names (the eight players currently T3 or better) sport flags are from Italy. You know they wouldn’t pander to any kind of Italian stereotype. Or would they?

Ok, well, scratch that. Everyone loves pasta.

The Three Tenors near the top are Matteo Manassero (-5), Edoardo Molinari and Francesco Molinari (both at -4). Unless you're a European Tour aficionado or a purveyor of fine Italian prosciutto, then these three players are about as new to you as Google Glass.

Alex Miceli of Golfweek writes:

Italy has never been known as a hotbed of golf. Its sports history is tied to a soccer team that has won four World Cup titles since 1934 and a fencing program that has captured more than 60 gold medals in the Olympics since the turn of he century.

That could all change with the Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco, sitting near the top of the leaderboard in the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

And throw in Manassero and suddenly Italy has a Generation Zero that could inspire the next great wave of Italian ball strikers (and not the soccer kind).


Matteo Manassero, -5 

Who is He?

Manassero is 21 years old and hails from Verona, Italy, and currently lives in Como. Manassero, though a rising star and arguably the next great European golfer, still lives with his parents. This is normal for those in their early 20s, just not as normal for someone who made $4 million in prize money in 2013.

Manassero is only 21 years old, yet he's accomplished so much already. At age 16, he became the youngest golfer ever to make the cut at the Masters. He then became the first teenager to win three golf tournaments on the European Tour.

For most people, he's a novel name to see near the top of the leaderboard, but it's not really a surprise.

Manassero told Express UK via "I have done it because sometimes I am very hard on myself and that is something I will never change. I get angry if I do things wrong but that's what keeps me going. I want to do my best."


Day 1 Performance

Manassero birdied two of the first three holes and bogeyed the ninth to be one-under at the turn. He turned it on on the back nine with five birdies and one bogey to head into the clubhouse in second place at five-under par.

He went bogey-free the final six holes with three birdies and three pars.

"We got off to a fast start, all of us," Manassero said on the Open's website. "It's going to be wonderful to have a few Italians up there on Sunday afternoon. It's going to be fun if there is.”


How Will He Do the Rest of the Way?

Manassero has the compsure and game to win. Making the cut at the Masters at 16 proved that Manassero can shine on the bigger stages. Five years removed from that tournament with four wins to his credit, Manassero appears to be on the verge of something special at Royal Liverpool.

He owes a lot to his Italian forbears, the other two men in this short list.

"I was lucky," he told Express UK. "I was pretty quick to adjust to the lifestyle on tour mainly because of the help I received from Francesco and Edoardo Molinari."

Scott Heppell/Associated Press


Francesco Molinari, -4

Who is He?

Francesco Molinari is 31 years old and was born in Turin, Italy. Unlike his other countrymen on this list, Francesco lives abroad, in London, England. That makes winning the Open Championship that much more special. 

Francesco earned a critical half-point against Tiger Woods to help secure a Ryder Cup for the Euros in 2012. 

Francesco Molinari, unlike his other countrymen on this list, has a top 10-finish in the Open Championship. A year ago at Muirfield, he finished ninth. He has just three wins on the European Tour.


Day 1 Performance

For a time, Edoardo Molinari sat at four-under ahead of his brother by two strokes. While he signed his scorecard, Francesco charged up 18 and drained an eagle to take a respectable two-under to four-under par.

"It's good to see three Italians up there," Francesco said in an Associated Press story hosted by "I'm sure it's going to be good for the kids watching us at home."


How Will He Do the Rest of the Way?

The two brothers made each other better while growing up since there weren't that many golfers their age playing well. The two have been paired in Ryder Cups, and depending on how things shape up, they could be paired up over the weekend giving television stations, newspapers and websites all kinds of juicy stuff to create.

“We don't like to lose to each other,” Francesco said in Golfweek. “We don't like to lose to anyone else. “

Someone will lose to someone here and Francesco has the edge as the better tour player. Francesco was four-under on the par fives while Edoardo was three-under.

If Francesco keeps owning the par fives, he could make a major push through the weekend.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press


Edoardo Molinari, -4

Who is He?

Edoardo is 32 years, was born in Turin, Italy and lives in Turin, Italy. His best year as a pro was in 2010 when he won two tournaments and was named to the Ryder Cup team.

Edoardo has been plagued by injuries the past few years. Since 2011, he's had surgery twice on his left wrist. For the past seven months, he's been injury free and earned his spot in the Open Championship with a runner-up effort in the Irish Open.

In four tries over nine years, Edoardo has never finished better than 27th at the Open. To his credit, he was the first European player to become the U.S. Amateur Champion since 1911.


Day 1 Performance 

Edoardo played a near-flawless first round at the Open. He opened the scoring with birdies on one and two followed by seven straight pars. He birdied 10 to go to three-under and was one of many who bogeyed 12 on the day—his only bogey in the round.

He capped off the day with birdies on 16 and 18 to go in at four-under.

For the past few years, he has battled that wrist injury and to be back playing golf on this level has been a relief and deeply gratifying.

"The toughest time was after the first surgery when you undergo one surgery one time, then you hope it's the last one," he said in Golfweek. "And then to do it again something like a year later wasn't fun at all. But hopefully, touching wood, everything is fine now."


How Will He Do the Rest of the Way? 

With the two brothers tied, one would imagine that they're going to push each other to get the best rounds they can. Edoardo, who trails his brother by one win on the European Tour with two, may be the one who will trail off as the tournament progresses.

Yes, he finished second in the Irish Open back on June 22, but he followed that up with three tournament finishes that don't inspire confidence: T94, T35, T90.

Francesco, the younger brother, said of their scores in Golfweek:

I guess it's nice to get a little cushion. I don't think we'll see these conditions tomorrow and maybe for the rest of the week. It's a golf course that I think won't play as easy as it did today, and I think on a day like today you just want to make some birdies and you want to be as close to the top as possible. It's nice to finish 4 under.

Seeing these three Italian nationals on top is one heck of an Italian job.