CARNOUSTIE- In the backdrop of a setting Sun along the banks of Carnoustie, Italian Francesco Molinari achieved the ultimate feat in the world of golf. At the age of 35, Molinari would win his first major championship, hoisting the coveted Claret Jug and earning the honour of Champion Golfer of the Year. He would become the first Italian born player to win a golf major championship, cementing Francesco’s legendary status back in his home country. On a course like Carnoustie, with difficult weather conditions that consisted of wind gusts up to 30 mph, Molinari exhibited his toughness and calmness under pressure, shooting a bogey-free 69 on Sunday.
“Incredible to go bogey-free on the weekend. I knew yesterday was a big day for me to shoot six under par. Today, I needed to play a different type of golf. I remained calm and continued to hit great shots. I’ll never forget that shot on the 18th hole,” Molinari stated after the round.
Francesco Molinari Fends Off 54-Hole Leaders Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Sunday Charge from Rory McIlroy
Molinari entered Sunday’s round two back of the leaders at nine-under par, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner. Spieth, who had won the Open Championship last year at Royal Birkdale, was looking to win back-to-back Claret Jugs and have four majors before the age of 25. But after shooting a brilliant 65 yesterday in the third round, Spieth struggled today to hit quality shots.
While Molinari was robotic in his play, putting on the board two birdies, 16 pars, and no bogeys, Spieth had trouble with the putter. He had bogeys on holes five, 15 and 17, and a costly double bogey on Hogan’s Alley, which knocked him out of contention. Despite the missed opportunity to win a fourth major championship, the American will take some positives out of this week.
“After a long period of time trying to find where my game is at, I feel that I am back and ready to contend for big tournaments again. I am looking forward to a successful end to the year,” Spieth stated after the round.
Xander Schauffele, one of the three 54-hole leaders, was also in the mix down the stretch. After shooting four over the front nine, Schauffele worked his game back into form with two birdies on 10 and 14. Unfortunately, a bad second shot on the punitive 17th hole forced him to take a bogey, putting the former Greenbrier winner in a tie for second place behind Molinari.
Rory McIlroy, who has also won the Open Championship before, was also making a run at Molinari at the top. Despite hitting 40% of the fairways, McIlroy had 61% greens in regulation and required only 28 putts in his final round, including a brilliant long eagle putt on the par-5 14th to capture a share of the lead.
“I’m only a few shots behind. The wind is supposed to pick up a little bit. So it will make things interesting,” McIlroy said after his third round performance. “I just need to get off to a fast start tomorrow.”
Despite not getting up to the eight under par which Molinari held at the end of the tournament, McIlroy once again added to the drama during the home stretch of a major championship, just not making the shots and putts necessary to get him back to the winner’s circle.
Francesco Molinari Shines Against a Charging Tiger
The golfing world had their eyes pierced on Tiger Woods, who was playing with Molinari and in contention once again at a major championship. During the front nine, when Spieth, Schauffele, and Kisner were faltering, it was Woods and Molinari who were playing superbly. With Francesco continuing to tally up pars, Woods went two under on the front nine and as he was making the turn to number 10, he had a one-shot lead in the Open Championship.
With golf fans in an elated euphoria, Tiger’s strong play came to a halt. After hitting many fairways on the front nine, Woods hit his irons off the tee in the rough on holes 11 and 12. After a tactical mistake on 11, where he decided to gamble by hitting a flubbed flop shot, Tiger would double bogey and then bogey 12, dropping three shots in two holes to give up the lead.
“I made a few mistakes there, drove it in the rough on 11 and 12. The grass grabbed the shaft on both of them,” Woods said afterward. “I figured starting out the day that 9 was probably going to be the number. I figured I’d have to go get that number. Didn’t do it.”
While Woods would make a long birdie putt on the 14th, he would not catch up to his playing partner Molinari, who converted birdies on 14 and 18 to go on and fend off the Big Cat.
“The way Francesco played today was beautiful,” Woods told NBC. “He hit a couple off shots here and there, but his short game was on point. He hit some beautiful pitches up there, too.”
Woods would have his highest result at an Open Championship since 2013. While many Tiger-crazed fans are disappointed that he did not come away with the win, he is inching closer to once again being victorious and perhaps claiming that elusive 15th major championship. This is what makes Francesco’s victory all the more special; back when Tiger was a superstar and dominating the game, everyone who would play against him would wilt under the pressure. While Woods is no longer the same player he once was, he does elicit that superstar aura which did not bother Molinari one bit in Sunday’s magical performance.
Francesco Molinari Adds to Successful Stretch of Golf
There was one point during the final round of the Open where there were six players tied for the lead and the top nine golfers on the leaderboard were separated by two shots. But it was Molinari, the steadiest of them all amidst difficult conditions at Carnoustie, to come out on top and continue his strong stretch of fantastic golf.
Coming into the Open, the Italian had two wins and two second-place finishes in six tournament appearances, including a victory at Tiger’s Quicken Loans event this July.
During this stretch, Molinari has exhibited a strong tee-to-green game, while significantly improving his putting, always considered to be the weakest part of his game. Heading into this season, Molinari was struggling and wanted to come to America to gain more FedEx Cup points and have an automatic qualification into this year’s Ryder Cup competition. After winning his first PGA Tour event at the Quicken Loans by eight strokes and coming in second place at the John Deere Classic the week before the Open, it is no surprise that Molinari’s momentum would continue into hoisting his first major championship.
What a round by @F_Molinari. Played with him Thursday-Friday, not surprised! Guy is the hottest player on the planet currently. Bogey free out there today is a championship round
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) July 22, 2018
But unlike his two wins this year, Molinari had to earn this major championship playing against the best players in the world. Despite hitting only 43% of fairways in Sunday’s round, the Italian was 12/12 in converting up-and-down shots around the green, which proved to be crucial while the rest of the field was experiencing first-hand the difficult creature Carnoustie is to deal with.
Not only did Molinari break the streak of American golfers winning major championships at five, but he also will rise in both the World Golf Rankings and FedEx Cup standings, easily a qualifier to make Thomas Bjorn’s European Ryder Cup team. Who knows what the rest of the year will hold for the Italian, but he definitely proved this week that he belongs as one of the tenacious golfers on tour.
“It is absolutely amazing,” Molinari said after the round. “I think it will take a long time to sink in. It has been a great week.”