AFP/Carnoustie, United Kingdom
Italy’s Francesco Molinari emerged from the pack in a thrilling finale at Carnoustie to win the British Open yesterday, seeing off the challenges of reigning champion Jordan Spieth and a revived Tiger Woods to win the first major of his career.
At the age of 35, he becomes the first Italian player ever to win a major, after keeping his cool in remarkable fashion when almost all around him seemed to be losing theirs on a warm but windy afternoon on the Scottish coast.
A two-under-par round of 69 allowed him to finish on eight-under, two shots clear of the quartet of Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner on six-under.
Molinari had started the day three shots behind a trio of overnight leaders in Schauffele, Kisner and Spieth, who were all nine under par when they teed off.
The latter had been hoping to become the first player since Padraig Harrington a decade ago to retain the Claret Jug, but he faded with a final-round 76 to finish on four-under.
Meanwhile Woods, who was playing with Molinari, was in the outright lead at one point on Sunday but ended with a 71 to finish in a tie for sixth with England’s Eddie Pepperell and Kevin Chappell of the United States.
Molinari was not at all fazed by the huge crowds and the media circus following Woods, and he did not have a single bogey all day, following on from a blemish-free 65 on Saturday.
Indeed, he had 13 successive pars before a birdie at the long 14th hole and then another birdie at the 18th. He then embraced his caddy, although he still had to wait for Schauffele to come down the last and for his victory to be confirmed.
His success ends a run of five consecutive majors being won by Americans, and confirms an incredible run of form for Molinari after his victory at the PGA Championship at Wentworth in England in May and a first PGA Tour win at the Quicken Loans National recently.
“It’s amazing to stand here with the Claret Jug. My record around here was terrible, which didn’t make me too optimistic about the week,” he said.
“Very proud of today, obviously playing with Tiger was another challenge because of the crowds, but I felt really good coming here this morning and felt ready for a challenge.”
It was a surprise to see any one player finish clear of the pack after an afternoon of twists and turns that had left a play-off — as there had been in each of the last three Opens here — looking inevitable.
It also seemed a good bet that there would be an American winner, especially after the United States had dominated the leaderboard on Saturday night.
But while last year Spieth survived a wobble in the final round at Royal Birkdale to take the title, this time he was too erratic, not recovering from a bogey at the fifth that was followed by a double-bogey at the long sixth where his second shot found a gorse bush.
“When you put yourself in position enough times, it goes your way sometimes, it doesn’t go your way sometimes,” said Spieth, who was hoping to become only the third player to win four majors before turning 25, after Young Tom Morris and Woods.
For Woods this was not to be the weekend where he finally claimed his 15th major title, a decade after his last at the US Open.
However, Carnoustie did announce his return to the top of the sport, with the 42-year-old captivating the crowds, especially on Saturday when he shot a superb 66.
That had catapulted him right into contention, but after going out in front on his own midway through yesterday, he promptly dropped three strokes in two holes at the 11th and 12th.
He could not recover his challenge after that, and a fourth British Open title will have to wait.
Schauffele and Kisner both shot 74 as their challenges for a first major faded.
Meanwhile, McIlroy’s second straight round of 70 was not enough for him to claim a first major since 2014, while Rose claimed a surprisingly high finish, with his 69 following a 64 on Saturday after he only just made the cut for the weekend.
Leading final round scores
276 - Francesco Molinari (ITA) 70-72-65-69
278 - Justin Rose (ENG) 72-73-64-69, Rory McIlroy (NIR) 69-69-70-70, Kevin Kisner (USA) 66-70-68-74, Xander Schauffele (USA) 71-66-67-74
279 - Eddie Pepperell (ENG) 71-70-71-67, Tiger Woods (USA) 71-71-66-71, Kevin Chappell (USA) 70-69-67-73,
280 - Tony Finau (USA) 67-71-71-71, Matt Kuchar (USA) 70-68-70-72, Jordan Spieth (USA) 72-67-65-76
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