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Reigning Open champ Molinari hopes to extend hot streak at the Masters

Francesco Molinari hits from the sand during a practice round Monday, April 8, for the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Michael Madrid / USA TODAY Sports

AUGUSTA, Ga. - The first time Francesco Molinari arrived at the Masters, he was in white overalls. This year, the British Open champion is hoping to walk away in a green jacket.

A caddie for his brother Edoardo in 2006, Molinari "carried the clubs and prayed that (Edoardo) was going to hit good shots," the Italian told reporters on Tuesday.

"We were very inexperienced at this level and just trying to make the most of those two days."

This year, the 36-year-old will hit the links as the Open Championship's victor and a legitimate threat to take the Masters' top prize.

"I've had a lot of success in the last few months, and I think that the important thing is that I don't have to let my guard down," Molinari said.

"I still have to go through all the work and the process that got me to this point, and hopefully will get me even further forward in my career."

The world number seven has enjoyed a hot streak since becoming the first Italian professional golfer to win a major at the British Open in July, clinching the Ryder cup for Europe in September and winning the race to Dubai in November.

Most recently, the European Tour Golfer of the Year put on a putting master class to win March's Arnold Palmer Invitational.

"It's taken awhile, but obviously now success is coming quite often, and that's a nice feeling," Molinari said. "So I'll try to keep working to keep the success coming."

Reed relying on Green Jacket for lift

Defending Masters champion Patrick Reed has used his green jacket as a motivational tool since he triumphed at Augusta last year and he does not want to hand it over even if it has not exactly been a lucky charm.

Reed has spent every day of the last year with the iconic jacket, given to those who win the year's first major, and is ready to do everything in his power to keep hold of it this week.

"Knowing that I have to get the jacket back at the end of the week, it makes me more hungry and more motivated to keep the jacket and continue playing well and trying to win another one," Reed told a news conference on Tuesday at Augusta National.

"I position the jacket everywhere I go, so every time I wake up, I see it, and every time I come home and go to bed, I see it. I use it more as motivation."

Despite being the defending champion, Reed's results since slipping into the green jacket a year ago mean he is largely flying under the radar this week.

Reed will set off in Thursday's opening round hoping to get one step closer to joining Jack Nicklaus (1965, 1966), Nick Faldo (1989, 1990) and Tiger Woods (2001, 2002) as the only players to win back-to-back Masters titles.

McIlroy to open alongside Fowler

Rory McIlroy will begin his latest quest to complete the career grand slam of golf's four majors when he tees off alongside Rickie Fowler and Australia's Cameron Smith on Thursday at Augusta National.

It will be McIlroy's fifth attempt at the Masters to complete his collection of major titles and is perhaps his best chance yet as the Northern Irishman enters the week as the hottest player on the planet.

McIlroy's grouping, which will be the 15th of 29 to take the course, will start their round at 10:15 a.m. CT and follow the threesome of four-time champion Tiger Woods, China's Li Haotong and Spaniard Jon Rahm around the course.

Looking to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods as winners of the career grand slam, McIlroy enters the year's first major in top form.

With a top-six finish in each of the six stroke play events he has played this year, including a triumph at The Players Championship three weeks ago, McIlroy is a popular pick to make amends for his final-round letdown last year.

McIlroy, whose grouping will be the last out on Friday at 1 p.m. behind the Woods threesome, started three shots back of eventual champion Patrick Reed entering the final round in 2018 but closed with two-over 74 to finish in a share of fifth place.