By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Refreshed after a seven-week break and with just two tournaments under his belt this year, Francesco Molinari has his sights set on recapturing the encouraging form he displayed in late 2013 and a Ryder Cup spot.
Molinari has represented Europe in the last two editions of the biennial team competition against the United States, both times on winning teams, and he would dearly love the chance to compete in a third at Gleneagles in Scotland from September 26 to 28.
"It's a huge goal obviously," the 31-year-old Italian told Reuters. "Everyone wants to be there, and especially after you have played in one or two, you would love to go back.
"But it's a long way away and there's a lot of golf to be played before then. So it's in the back of my mind but I try not to think about it and try just to play some good golf and get some good results."
A three-times champion on the European Tour, Molinari has not tasted victory since the 2012 Reale Seguros Open de Espana, despite coming close several times.
He readily admits that his short game held him back in the early part of last year but he took great satisfaction from the way he finished up his 2013 campaign.
"Last year was all right," he said after tying for 40th in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on Sunday. "It wasn't my best year but it was a lot better toward the end of the season.
"It was a shame that I didn't win. I had a couple of chances at least during the season but I didn't manage to get a win so I am looking forward to doing better in 2014.
"My short game wasn't good enough at the beginning of the season but from August onwards it started to get better and all parts of my game were good at the end of the year."
Molinari ended the 2012-13 European Tour placed at 13th in the Race to Dubai money list after recording five top-10s in 26 starts, his best finish a tie for second at the BMW Masters in October.
However, he felt somewhat burned out after two hectic seasons in a row and decided to take a lengthy break at the end of the year.
"I needed to get some energy back," said Molinari, who won the biggest title of his career at the 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai.
"The first three or four weeks, I mainly rested and then I did some good work on the game. I had one week of holiday with my family.
"I'm glad I did it. I had two very long seasons the last two years, so I think I needed a longer break through the winter."
Molinari has since played in two tournaments, tying for 13th at the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic earlier this month before making his first appearance on the 2013-14 PGA Tour at Riviera Country Club.
He was one of three international players ranked in the world's top 50 who earned a sponsor's exemption for the Northern Trust Open, perfect timing with the opening World Golf Championships (WGC) event taking place in Arizona this week.
"It's been great for me having the chance to play at Riviera," Molinari said. "It was my first time at the venue and I love the course, I love the tournament. It was really good preparation for the Match Play."
The elite WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, which brings together the game's leading 64 players, will be held in Marana, Arizona from Wednesday through Sunday.
"You need a little bit of time to get your mindset right when you're back competing after a long break," said the 45th-ranked Molinari, who partnered with his brother, Edoardo, to win the 2009 World Cup for Italy at Mission Hills in China.
"I think it take a few weeks, a few rounds, just to get back to 100 percent. So far, so good."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry and Clare Lovell)