Molinari returns claret jug, faces long odds getting it back

Peter Morrison/AP: Francesco Molinari of Italy plays the sixth hole at Royal Portrush Golf Club, Northern Ireland, on Monday during a practice round ahead of the 148th Open Golf Championship, which begins Thursday.

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Golf's oldest championship is all about tradition, and this is one Francesco Molinari could have done without.

Fifty-one weeks after he won the British Open and gazed at his name etched on the silver claret jug, he had to return it.

Getting it back won't be easy.

"I'm well aware of the challenges ahead," Molinari said Monday on the first day of official practice at Royal Portrush. "There's a lot of guys capable this week of winning the trophy. All I can do is do my best, try to put up a good defense and be in contention on Sunday. It's a long week ahead, so I'll try to take it step-by-step."

The first order of business was getting to know the links.

Molinari was among the 21 players who played the Irish Open in 2012 at Royal Portrush. The sharp elevation, sensational views of the limestone cliffs known as White Rocks and the Dunluce Castle in the distance, it all looked familiar. But it's not quite the same course.

The Royal & Ancient wanted two new holes – Nos. 7 and 8 – to weave into the century-old links so that the final two holes could be used for concessions and promotional displays for more than 200,000 spectators expected this week.

The elevation is rare for links golf, especially courses in the British Open rotation, and there are fewer pot bunkers.

"We play a lot in England where it's quite flat," Tommy Fleetwood said. "And in front of you there's a lot more bunkers on those links courses. These have a few more undulations and a few more blind shots. Sure, in general if you hit a good shot there's always a bit of unpredictability on links golf. And you're going to get good breaks and bad breaks. But definitely, poor shots are going to get punished."

Tiger Woods was again out early, this time going 18 holes with Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson.

Just as much attention – if not more – figures to be on Rory McIlroy, playing before a home crowd in Northern Ireland on a course where he showed off his potential as a 16-year-old who set the course record at Royal Portrush with a 61 in the North of Ireland Amateur.

Walking onto the course, fans stopped to watched large video screens of McIlroy's pure swing as a lad, the curly locks and boyish looks of the teenager who shot the 61 at Royal Portrush, and then the older version of McIlroy tapping in to win the British Open five years ago at Hoylake.

He played the Scottish Open last week, finishing in the middle of the pack, and stayed away from Royal Portrush on Monday.

The honor of the opening tee shot Thursday goes to Darren Clarke, who was raised in Dungannon but spent his formative years at Portrush, which he now calls home. The R&A chief executive asked Clarke if he would mind starting the 148th Open – and first at Royal Portrush since 1951 – and it was an easy answer.

This will be a nervous moment, and a proud one.

"As soon as he asked me, it was always going to be a yes," Clarke said. "Will there be tears? No. I'll just be very proud that we have it back here in Northern Ireland. It's going to be an amazing tournament. If you see how many people were in here yesterday watching, and again today, and all the practice tickets are all sold out. The atmosphere is going to be amazing."

Clarke had the jug for a year after his victory at Royal St. George's in 2011, and he brought it with him to Royal Portrush for the Irish Open in 2012.

Molinari, who gets panned for being a flat-liner and loves it, didn't do anything too wild with golf's oldest trophy. He poured a few drinks from it but mostly kept it out of reach of his children to keep anything from happening to it.

"I was very, very careful with it, especially the first few weeks," Molinari said. "So much so that I forgot my TrackMan on the plane not to forget the claret jug. That, obviously, had the priority."

And now it's back with the R&A for seven days until a new name is carved into the silver base. Not since Padraig Harrington in 2007 and 2008 has a player turned in the jug on Monday and reclaimed it six days later.

Six of them finished 11 shots or more out of the lead. One missed the cut. McIlroy was unable to play because of injury. The only one who came remotely close to defending was Jordan Spieth last year. He had a share of the 54-hole lead and then played the final round without a birdie and finished four behind.

Molinari set out Monday to get reacquainted with Royal Portrush, though one aspect remains vivid – the noise. He played the opening round of the Irish Open with Clarke. Fans lined the sides of both fairways, even in the rain.

"It was just an incredible atmosphere," Molinari said. "I think that's a taste of what we're going to get this week. Everyone else in the field is looking forward to that."

British Open Field

The 156-man field for the 148th British Open at Royal Portrush on July 18-21. Players listed only in the first category for which they are eligible:

BRITISH OPEN CHAMPIONS: Francesco Molinari, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Zach Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink, Padraig Harrington, Tiger Woods, David Duval, Paul Lawrie, Tom Lehman.

TOP 10 AND TIES FROM 2018 BRITISH OPEN: Kevin Kisner, Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele, Eddie Pepperell, Tony Finau, Matt Kuchar.

MASTERS CHAMPIONS (5 YEARS): Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett.

U.S. OPEN CHAMPIONS (5 YEARS): Gary Woodland, Dustin Johnson.

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS (5 YEARS): Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker, Jason Day.

PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS (3 YEARS): Webb Simpson, Si Woo Kim.

BMW PGA CHAMPIONSHIP WINNERS (LAST 2 YEARS): Alex Noren.

TOP 30 FROM THE 2018 FEDEX CUP: Billy Horschel, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Kyle Stanley, Aaron Wise, Bryson DeChambeau, Cameron Smith, Patrick Cantlay, Patton Kizzire, Marc Leishman, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson.

TOP 30 IN THE 2018 RACE TO DUBAI: Thorbjorn Olesen, Li Haotong, Matt Wallace, Tyrrell Hatton, Lucas Bjerregaard, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Russell Knox, Lee Westwood, Alexander Bjork, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ryan Fox, Adrian Otaegui, Matt Fitzpatrick, Brandon Stone, Jorge Campillo, Thomas Pieters, Shubhankar Sharma, Andy Sullivan, Alexander Levy.

2018 ARGENTINA OPEN WINNER: Isidro Benitez.

PLAYING MEMBERS OF 2018 RYDER CUP TEAMS: Ian Poulter.

LEADER OF 2018 SUNSHINE TOUR ORDER OF MERIT: Zander Lombard.

2018 JAPAN OPEN CHAMPION: Yuki Inamori.

2019 ASIA-PACIFIC DIAMOND CUP CHAMPION: Yosuke Asaji.

LEADING TWO PLAYERS FROM 2018 JAPAN GOLF TOUR MONEY LIST: Shugo Imahira, Shaun Norris.

TOP 50 FROM THE WORLD RANKING ON MAY 26: Adam Scott, Shane Lowry, Justin Harding, C.T. Pan, Brandt Snedeker, Andrew Putnam, Jim Furyk.

TOP 5 EUROPEAN TOUR MEMBERS AND TIES FROM THE TOP 20 IN THE RACE TO DUBAI THROUGH THE BMW INTERNATIONAL OPEN: David Lipsky, Kurt Kitayama, Robert MacIntrye, Richard Sterne, Erik Van Rooyen.

TOP 5 AND TIES FROM AMONG THE TOP 20 IN THE FEDEX CUP THROUGH THE TRAVELERS CHAMIONSHIP: Chez Reavie, Charles Howell III, Ryan Palmer.

LEADER OF CUMULATIVE MONEY LIST FROM 2019 JAPAN GOLF TOUR EVENTS THROUGH JAPAN TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP: Mikumu Horikawa.

2018 SENIOR BRITISH OPEN CHAMPION: Miguel Angel Jimenez.

2019 BRITISH AMATEUR CHAMPION: a-James Sugrue.

2019 EUROPEAN AMATEUR CHAMPION: a-Matthias Schmid.

2018 ASIA-PACIFIC AMATEUR CHAMPION: a-Takumi Kanaya.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-AUSTRALIA: Abraham Ancer, Jake McLeod, Dimitrios Papadatos.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-SOUTH AFRICA: Romain Langasque, Oliver Wilson.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-SINGAPORE: Yoshinori Fujimoto, Jazz Janewattananond, Prom Meesawat, Doyeob Mun.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-BAY HILL: Sungjae Im, Sung Kang, Keith Mitchell.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-JAPAN: Yuta Ikeda, Chan Kim, Sang Hyun Park, Gunn Charoenkul.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-CANADA: Adam Hadwin, Graeme McDowell.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-KOREA: Innchoon Hwang, Dongkyu Jang.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-VALDERRAMA MASTERS: Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Adri Arnaus.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-DETROIT: Nate Lashley, Doc Redman.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-IRISH OPEN: Bernd Wiesberger, Robert Rock, Paul Waring.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-SCOTTISH OPEN: Benjamin Hebert, Andrew Johnston, Nino Bertasio.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-JOHN DEERE: Dylan Frittelli.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-FAIRMONT: a-Brandon Wu, Connor Syme, Sam Locke.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-NOTTS: Andrew Wilson, a-Thomas Thurloway, Ashton Turner.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-PRINCES: a-Curtis Knipes, Callum Shinkwin, Austin Connelly.

OPEN QUALIFYING SERIES-ST. ANNES: Jack Senior, Garrick Porteous, Matthew Baldwin.

RESERVES TO FILL THE FIELD FROM WORLD RANKING: Byeong Hun An, J.B. Holmes, Emiliano Grillo, Scott Piercy, Branden Grace, Luke List, Jason Kokrak, Tom Lewis, Charley Hoffman, Joost Luiten, Lucas Glover, Joel Dahmen, Corey Conners, Andrea Pavan, Mikko Korhonen, Joaquin Niemann, Kevin Streelman, Rory Sabbatini.

British Open Tee Times

At Royal Portrush Golf Club

Portrush, Northern Ireland

Purse: $10.75 million

Yardage: 7,344 yards; Par: 71

(a-amateur)

Thursday-Friday

12:35 a.m.-5:36 a.m. – Darren Clarke, Northern Ireland; a-James Sugrue, Ireland; Charley Hoffman, United States.

12:46 a.m.-5:47 a.m. – Emiliano Grillo, Argentina; Sung Kang, South Korea; a-Thomas Thurloway, England.

12:57 a.m.-5:58 a.m. – Andy Sullivan, England; Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Africa; Alex Levy, France.

1:08 a.m.-6:09 a.m. – Chan Kim, United States; Zander Lombard, South Africa; a-Brandon Wu, United States.

1:19 a.m.-6:20 a.m. – Richard Sterne, South Africa; Romain Langasque, France; a-Mattias Schmid, Germany.

1:30 a.m.-6:31 a.m. – Padraig Harrington, Ireland; Matt Fitzpatrick, England; Andrew Putnam, United States.

1:41 a.m.-6:42 a.m. – Bubba Watson, United States; Eddie Pepperell, England; Rafa Cabrera Bello, Spain.

1:52 a.m.-6:53 a.m. – Phil Mickelson, United States; Shane Lowry, Ireland; Branden Grace, South Africa.

2:03 a.m.-7:04 a.m. – Alex Noren, Sweden, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, France; Sam Locke, Scotland.

2:14 a.m.-7:15 a.m. – Webb Simpson, United States; Sergio Garcia, Spain; C.T. Pan, Taiwan.

2:25 a.m.-7:26 a.m. – Ryan Palmer, United States; Andrea Pavan, Italy; Dylan Frittelli, South Africa.

2:36 a.m.-7:37 a.m. – Kyle Stanley, United States, Bob MacIntrye, Scotland; Andrew Johnston, England.

2:47 a.m.-7:48 a.m. – Mikko Korhonen, Finalnd; Oliver Wilson, England; a-Curtis Knipes, England.

3:03 a.m.-8:04 a.m. – Ian Poulter, England; Sungjae Im, South Korea, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Thailand.

3:14 a.m.-8:15 a.m. – Henrik Stenson, Sweden; Xander Schauffele, United States; Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland.

3:25 a.m.-8:26 a.m. – Li Haotong, China; Russell Knox, Scotland; Bernd Wiesberger, Austria.

3:36 a.m.-8:37 a.m. – Jason Kokrak, United States; Connor Syme, Scotland; Austin Connelly, Canada.

3:47 a.m.-8:48 a.m. – Zach Johnson, United States; David Duval, United States; Corey Conners, Canada.

3:58 a.m.-8:59 a.m. – Francesco Molinari, Italy; Bryson DeChambeau, United States; Adam Scott, Australia.

4:09 a.m.-9:10 a.m. – Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland; Gary Woodland, United States; Paul Casey, England.

4:20 a.m.-9:21 a.m. – Rickie Fowler, United States; Kevin Kisner, United States; Hideki Matsuyama, Japan.

4:31 a.m.-9:32 a.m. – Jim Furyk, United States; Si Woo Kim, South Korea; Jimmy Walker, United States.

4:42 a.m.-9:43 a.m. – Luke List, United States; Alexander Bjork, Sweden; Paul Waring, England.

4:53 a.m.-9:54 a.m. – Shugo Imahira, Japan; Nate Lashley, United States; Benjamin Hebert, France.

5:04 a.m.-10:05 a.m. – Mikumu Horikawa, Japan; Callum Shinkwin, England; Garrick Porteous, England.

5:15 a.m.-10:16 a.m. – Prom Messawat, Thailand; Matthew Baldwin, England; Jack Senior, England.

5:36 a.m.-12:35 a.m. – Tom Lehman, United States; Joaquin Niemann, Chile; Miguel Angel Jimenez, Spain.

5:47 a.m.-12:46 a.m. – Beyong Hun An, South Korea; Jorge Campillo, Spain; Chris Wood, England.

5:58 a.m.-12:57 a.m. – Joel Dahmen, United States; Adri Arnaus, Spain; Dimitrios Papadatos, Australia.

6:09 a.m.-1:08 a.m. – Stewart Cink, United States; Rory Sabbatini, South Africa; Innchoon Hwang, South Korea.

6:20 a.m.-1:19 a.m. – Erik van Rooyen, South Africa; Kurt Kitayama, United States; Jake McLeod, Australia.

6:31 a.m.-1:30 a.m. – Ryan Fox, New Zealand; Shaun Norris, South Africa; Dongkyu Jang, South Korea.

6:42 a.m.-1:41 a.m. – Tyrrell Hatton, England; Keith Mitchell, United States; Thomas Pieters, Belgium.

6:53 a.m.-1:52 a.m. – Justin Thomas, United States; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Thorbjorn Olesen, Denmark.

7:04 a.m.-2:03 a.m. – Brooks Koepka, United States; Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa; Shubhankar Sharma, India.

7:15 a.m.-2:14 a.m. – Billy Horschel, United States; Jazz Janewattananond, Thailand; Aaron Wise, United States.

7:26 a.m.-2:25 a.m. – Jordan Spieth, United States; Marc Leishman, Australia; Danny Willett, England.

7:37 a.m.-2:36 a.m. – Cameron Smith, Australia; Adam Hadwin, Canada; David Lipsky, United States.

7:48 a.m.-2:47 a.m. – Paul Lawrie, Scotland; Chez Reavie, United States; Justin Harding, South Africa.

8:04 a.m.-3:03 a.m. – a-Takumi Kanaya, Japan; Tom Lewis, England; Brandon Stone, South Africa.

8:15 a.m.-3:14 a.m. – Lucas Glover, United States; Joost Luiten, Netherlands; Nino Bertasio, Italy.

8:26 a.m.-3:25 a.m. – Ernie Els, South Africa; J.B. Holmes, United States; Abraham Ancer, Mexico.

8:37 a.m.-3:36 a.m. – Brandt Snedeker, United States; Lee Westwood, England; Brian Harman, United States.

8:48 a.m.-3:47 a.m. – Justin Rose, England; Tony Finau, United States; Lucas Bjerregaard, Denmark.

8:59 a.m.-3:58 a.m. – Dustin Johnson, United States; Jason Day, Australia; Keegan Bradley, United States.

9:10 a.m.-4:09 a.m. – Tiger Woods, United States; Matthew Wallace, England; Patrick Reed, United States.

9:21 a.m.-4:20 a.m. – Jon Rahm, Spain; Patrick Cantlay, United States; Matt Kuchar, United States.

9:32 a.m.-4:31 a.m. – Kevin Streelman, United States; Doc Redman, United States; Robert Rock, England.

9:43 a.m.-4:42 a.m. – Adrian Otaegui, Spain; Yuta Ikeda, Japan; Isidro Benitez, Mexico.

9:54 a.m.-4:53 a.m. – Patton Kizzire, United States; Sang Hyun Park, South Korea; Yuki Inamori, Japan.

10:05 a.m.-5:04 a.m. – Yoshinori Fujimoto, Japan, Doyeob Mun, South Korea; Andrew Wilson, England.

10:16 a.m.-5:15 a.m. – Gunn Charoenkul, Thailand; Yosuki Asaji, Japan; Ashton Turner, England.

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