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Before we get to Edoardo Molinari's performance in the Masters, here's his family's recipe for northern Italian--style pasta: Soften 500 grams of butter to room temperature. Boil 21/2 kilos of spaghetti or fettuccini until it is al dente. Drain in a colander. Toss the hot pasta with the butter in a bowl or baking dish. Sprinkle with fresh parmesan and take directly to the table. Serves 12 to 14, including a mama, a papa, a U.S. Amateur champion, a girlfriend, a brother who plays the European tour, an uncle, various coaches and Italian team captains, and a stylish young man who looks as if he could direct the sequel to Satyricon. � It's a simple recipe--nothing like the fussy pastas of southern Italy, where a tomato sauce can simmer for hours--but it was the perfect dish to serve Edoardo last Wednesday on the eve of his Masters debut. "He says he is quite cool and not nervous," said his father, Paolo, relaxing before dinner in the courtyard of a rented house. "But I think on the 1st tee tomorrow, standing next to Tiger, his hands will be shaking." � Thus, comfort food. And while the Turin native clearly didn't need pasta to perform--cheeseburgers were his fuel in Pennsylvania last August when he became the first European to win the U.S. Amateur since England's Harold Hilton in 1911--the home-cooked meal made a statement.
"I feel that I am representing my country," said Edoardo, a slender 25-year-old with an easy command of English, a habit of not shaving during competition and an unusually calm disposition. "It's not every day that an Italian plays in the Masters." Before Molinari, in fact, there had been only three: Costantino Rocca, the amiable bear from Bergamo who was paired with Woods in the final round of the 1997 Masters; Alfonso Angelini, a great ball striker who walked with a limp after losing several toes in World War II; and Roberto Bernardini, a Roman who played in the '69 and '70 Masters but quit the U.S. tour because, according to legend, he couldn't find a good plate of spaghetti.
The next Italian to play in the Masters could well be the fellow who spent much of last week carrying Edoardo's clubs: his younger brother Francesco. Edoardo's equal at golf, the 23-year-old Francesco has three top 10 finishes in this his second year on the European tour. "We've been like teammates since we were really little," says Francesco. "He caddied for me when I went through Q school." The brothers learned the game on afternoon outings with Paolo, a dentist with a seven handicap, and their mother, Micaela, at the Torino Golf Club. "Francesco was younger, but he was stronger physically," says Paolo, "so they could play at the same level."
Asked if he and his brother are heralds of an Italian golf boom, Francesco smiled and shook his head. "I would like to say yes, but there isn't much interest," he answered. "When Rocca walks down a street in London or Stockholm, people recognize him and ask for autographs. But if he walks in Italy, nobody knows who he is." That reality did nothing to dampen the spirits of a misty-eyed Papa, who said after caddying for his son in the par-3 contest, "Nothing can be better than this."
If Paolo was on top of the world, Edoardo was on top of the clubhouse. Every night he returned to Augusta National and slept in the Crow's Nest, the dormitory under the cupola where amateur invitees reside during Masters week. (This year there were five boys in the belfry, including British Amateur champion Brian McElhinney, who the week before had beaten Molinari 3 and 2 in the finals of the Georgia Cup in Atlanta.) The college ambience suited the Italian, who only last year earned a degree in engineering from the prestigious Politecnico di Torino.
But on the course the atmosphere was all business. It is the U.S. Amateur champ who ends up in the pressure cooker, paired for two rounds with the defending Masters titleholder. Molinari was better prepared than most, having qualified for last year's British Open at St. Andrews, where he finished 60th. "Edoardo has a lot of weapons in his game," says Thomas Levet, a Ryder Cupper from France. "You can compare him maybe to Luke Donald--not very long off the tee but no weaknesses."
Still, you don't shake hands with Tiger Woods on the 1st tee at your first Masters without a butterfly or two in your stomach. On Thursday morning Molinari hit his tee shot on number 1 safely to the left but dumped his approach in a bunker and made bogey. He looked shaky on the par-5 2nd as well, wandering into the woods left off the tee. "I felt a lot of pressure on the first three holes," he admitted after signing for a first-round 80, "but after that it was fun." The most fun part--if you have a mordant sense of humor--came at the par-5 13th, where the Italian's chip for eagle rolled slowly past the hole, down the bank and into the creek. Asked what he might do differently in round two, Molinari laughed and responded, "You won't see me chipping down the hill on 13."
You will see him chipping around the globe this summer, when he'll play in the U.S. and British Opens before turning pro in July. He then hopes to land a few European tour exemptions before testing himself at the Euro Q school in the fall. "If he keeps playing the way he's playing, he doesn't have to worry," said Francesco, "even if he doesn't get his card on his first attempt." Paolo, meanwhile, pretended that he was ready to quit his dental practice. "I am waiting for the two boys to support me," he said. "Then I'll stop."
Friday afternoon gave the Italians a few opportunities to shout "Bravo!" Edoardo stumbled out of the gate with a first-hole double bogey, but he birdied three holes on the way to a second-round 77. That didn't qualify him to play on the weekend, but his 157 was the second-best score by an amateur. It also earned him the respect of Woods, who called the Italian "a class act. He hit the ball in some bad spots, but he kept plugging along."
Italians don't do fortune cookies, but Molinari's finish had the flavor of an after treat. His approach on 18 flew right over the flag, but the ball inexplicably refused to spin back down the slope to the hole. It clung there for a minute or two--about as long as it takes to uncork and pour a bottle of Barolo. Then, just as the players reached the green, the ball wobbled, leaned and rolled gently down the hill, stopping six feet above the hole. As the crowd cheered, Edoardo threw both hands in the air in triumph. A grinning Woods said, "That was cool."