Neil Tappin looks back on a pulsating final day as Francesco Molinari wins 147th Open Championship
The 147th Open Championship has come to a close and we all need a lie down. It was a pulsating day on the Angus coast that promised so much for so many. At times, the golfing world had no idea in which direction to look as challenges came from every direction at Carnoustie. In the end it was Francesco Molinari who hoisted the Claret Jug and in so doing became the first Italian to win a major.
No fewer than 10 players had good reason to think it would be their name on the Claret Jug. It all started with the Englishman Eddie Pepperell. As the leaders teed off in a strengthening breeze, Pepperell tapped in on the final hole for a score of 67 and a four round total of five under par. In truth it was always an outside chance but the birdies had well and truly dried up for the leaders and stranger things have happened – especially at Carnoustie.
Next was Justin Rose. The world number three made an incredible birdie on the 18th hole of round two to make the cut. Weekend scores of 64 and 69 sent him flying up the leaderboard. His tied second finish was a superb result and surely, major number two for Rose is just around the corner.
The third protagonist in this captivating drama was none other than Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman plotted yet another up and down route across Carnoustie. Two over after five holes and six behind the leaders, McIlroy’s race looked run early on the final day. But as the crowds gathered elsewhere, Rory fought back. Birdies at the 9th, 11th and an eagle at the 14th sent him to the top of the leaderboard. However, as he parred in, others charged and when McIlroy tapped in on the 18th green he knew he was short.
For a significant period of the afternoon, it looked as if this Championship would go down in history as the 15th major for one Tiger Woods. Stood on the 10th tee, Woods led the Open outright at seven under par. The sporting world was on the cusp of an incredible story but in the end, Tiger’s nagging swing issues returned. A big miss to the right off the 11th tee marked the start and led to a double-bogey. When he dropped another shot after a poor 12th hole, Woods found himself two shots behind again.
If Woods’s fading was a surprise, then Jordan Spieth’s disintegration was an utter shock. The 2017 Open Champion looked in control early on but a bogey on the 5th was followed by a hopeless 6th hole in which, after sending his second shot into a gorse bush, he made a double bogey. The American hung around until a succession of relatively short putts slipped by down the stretch. Has a faltering putter become a significant worry for Spieth? He putted well for three days but when he needed it most it deserted him. The contrast to 12 months previously could not be more stark.
Going into the final round Spieth held the lead alongside two other Americans, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner. Once the dust settles both will look back on this day as one that slipped away. A level par 71 would have been good enough for either man to lift the Claret Jug but first Kisner and then Schauffele, they fell away to leave the last man standing.
That man of course was Francesco Molinari. Make no mistake about it, the Italian won this. Playing alongside Tiger Woods, he had to put up with the crowd and media circus that makes that so difficult. No matter. Molinari started with 13 straight pars. A regulation birdie four at 14 was followed by some gritty golf down what is one of the world’s toughest closing stretches. The exclamation mark came on a final hole with a fearsome reputation forged by the famous calamities of the past. But as Molinari smashed a drive down the middle and then pitched up to 5ft on 18, visions of Jean Van De Velde could not have been further from the mind. Molinari calmly rolled in his birdie putt and finally it looked as if this engrossing drama had its finally act.
Prior to the Open, Molinari had recently won on both sides of the Atlantic. He was the form horse and on a firm, fast layout that required precision off the tee, he was always a likely contender. But winning majors requires far more than just good form. During this Open Championship, Molinari transformed from being a solid Tour and Ryder Cup player into a golfer who will go down in the history book as much for the way he did it as for the achievement itself.
On a day in which golden opportunities came and went, it was Francesco Molinari who held his nerve to win the Claret Jug. Finally, Italy can celebrate its first ever major-winning golfer.