Date: July 23, 2018
Author: Mark Hayes

Molinari does Italian job on Tiger

Francesco Molinari stared into the eye of the Tiger and walked away unscathed to earn his place in Open Championship history.

On an afternoon almost unrivalled for storylines and potential winners, the world’s most in-form player became a hero as Italy’s first major championship winner but at the same time a villain on the other side of the Atlantic as Tiger Woods fell agonisingly shy of a 15th major crown.

After starting three back, Woods had the golfing world humming when he took the outright lead after a relentless front-nine surge at Carnoustie.

But when Woods stumbled to a double-bogey on the par-four 11th, his playing partner Molinari, who now has three wins and two runner-up finishes in his past six starts worldwide, slowly but surely took control.

High winds had wrought havoc on so many pretenders to the Claret Jug, but remarkably, Molinari, 35, completed a bogey-free weekend in carding 70-72-65-69 to win by two strokes at eight under.

But that margin, back to a four-way tie for second between Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy, Kevin Kisner and Justin Rose, belies a truly staggering final two hours.

No fewer than seven people held or shared the lead until kicked clear with birdies on the 14th and a special on the 18th from an approach shot that finished within 1.5m under the fiercest of heat.

That Molinari could defy the winds and the course regarded as the most treacherous on the Open rota to keep a bogey-free card was remarkable.

That he did it walking alongside a rampant Woods made it one of 2018’s best sporting feats.

Social media and, indeed, the main TV commentary was gushing over Woods’ outward 34 as overnight leaders Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner and Schauffele stumbled.

But just when golf journalists scurried for the right adjectives to describe what loomed as a Woods’ fairytale, he took a double-bogey on the 11th hole after spraying his tee shot right and second shot left.

Ten minutes later, a bogey on the 12th effectively ended his hopes of a fourth Open title.

As Tiger imploded, Rose’s approach to the par-five 14th hit the pin and dropped to kick-in eagle range. McIlroy soon followed suit with a long-range bomb on the same green to join the party.

The stage looked set for Spieth to defend his title, but he uncharacteristically fell from grace with a cold putter as late runs came from Kisner, Kevin Chappell and Schauffele, whose bid was the last to be snuffed out with a bogey on the 17th.

Woods finished in a share of sixth at five under alongside Chappell and the fast-finishing Eddie Pepperell, while Spieth remarkably didn’t make a birdie all day in his flat 76 that left him at five under and in a share of ninth.

“It’s incredible to stand here,” Molinari said at the presentation when announced as the “champion golfer of the year” after the stirring battle.

“It’s been a tough fight, but there’s only one winner in golf and this time, fortunately, it’s me.”

The Italian won the European Tour’s flagship PGA Championship at Wentworth two months ago to start an incredible rise from 33rd in the world rankings after he missed the cut at the Players Championship.

He was then runner-up at his home Open in Brescia, 25th at the US Open, won the Quicken Loans National and was runner-up at the John Deere Classic, both on the US PGA Tour, in following weeks.

When the world rankings are updated tomorrow, he will rise to a career-high No.6 just months after he looked unlikely to even be a consideration for the Ryder Cup.

Scotland’s Sam Locke, as the only amateur to make the cut, was the winner of the Silver Medal at nine over.