Francesco Molinari Molinari looks to defend his Italia Open title

Italian golfer Francesco Molinari has his sights set on defending his title at the Telecom Italia Open in Milan this week, where last year he became the first Italian to win the championship in 26 years.

No European PGA Tour Player has ever won back-to-back Italia Opens.

Molinari's win last year followed four stellar rounds in the 60s, including a closing round of 65 to win by four shots over Anders Hansen and Jarmo Sandelin.

Not surprisingly, Molinari, 24, was the clear favorite among the fans who gathered at the Castello di Tolcinasco Golf and Country Club (he is from Turin, west of Milan).

"It was fantastic last year because I don't think the crowd really expected an Italian golfer to win," he told "Because of that, they went crazy over the last few holes - it was more like a football match."

Molinari's younger brother Edoardo, currently No. 1 on the European Challenge Tour, will also compete (he missed the cut last year).

Also vying for the championship is South African Charl Schwartzel, last week's winner at the Open de Espana, who came from behind after four grueling days of bad weather outside Madrid. The 22-year-old is currently sixth on the European Tour Order of Merit.

Americans in the field in Milan this week include Tom Lehman, Duffy Waldorf and Steve Jones.

European Tour veteran Ian Woosnam had to withdraw from the event, citing a virus.

May 1, 2007

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