CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND – JULY 22: Francesco Molinari of Italy celebrates a birdie on the 18th hole during the final round of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 22, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
By Christopher Powers
With the likes of Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy each making a run on Sunday at Carnoustie, it was easy to forget about arguably the hottest player in the world, Francesco Molinari. His 13 straight pars to open his round may not have electrified the crowd, but it put him in position to make a run down the stretch, which he did, saving his best for last and making birdie at the 14th and 18th holes. A bogey-free, two-under 69 from the Italian wound up being enough for a two-stroke victory, his first major title and his second win this month.
Prior to July 1st, Molinari, despite his immense talent and winning resume on the European Tour, had still not registered a PGA Tour win in 120 career starts. A dominating performance at the Quicken Loans, and an incredible comeback this week at Carnoustie after sitting at even par through 36 holes, have completely changed the story of his career in a matter of weeks.
“I knew everyone was going to struggle a bit,” said Molinari, who played his final 37 holes without making a bogey. “So I could use it to my advantage, and, just did a great job at that. My caddie was great at keeping me focused on good things and what we needed to do, and that putt on the last, I’ll never forget.”
The final putt came after a solid drive at the 18th for Molinari, but one that found a divot just off the fairway down the right side. That didn’t seem to faze him, as he struck his next shot perfectly to inside 10 feet, holing the putt for what ended up being more than enough to win.
Since dedicating more of his time to the PGA Tour in 2014, Molinari has given himself plenty of chances to win, finishing inside the top 10 11 times before finally breaking through at the Quicken Loans. The majors were a different story for the 35-year-old though, as he posted just one top 15 in 12 tries between the 2014 Masters and last year’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. But a T-2 at the PGA Championship a month later, plus his career year in 2018, have validated a lot of hard work.
“It’s been tough playing more in the states, it’s been a bit of a wake-up call. I think for any European that goes over there, new courses, different players, different challenges. So, it wasn’t easy at the beginning, but I stuck with it and tried to make it work. Added a few great people to the team, and here we are.”
The victory makes Molinari the first Italian-born player to win a major championship. Costantino Rocca nearly became the first in the 1995 Open Championship at St. Andrews, but lost to John Daly in a playoff.
Four players tied for second at six-under 278, including McIlroy and Rose, who needed birdie at the 18th on Friday just to make the cut. His third-round 64 was the lowest round of the tournament, and Sunday’s two-under 69 earned the Englishman his best career finish in the Open Championship, and his third inside the top six. McIlroy carded a one-under 70 and has now finish T-7 or better in a major four times in the last two seasons.
Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele, who each shot three-over 74s, also finished in a tie for second.
Woods made an early charge, even taking the solo lead as he made the turn, but a double bogey at the 11th and a bogey at the 12th proved to be too much to recover from. He finished with an even-par 71, putting him in a tie for sixth with Eddie Pepperell and Kevin Chappell. It’s his best finish in a major since the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield, when he also tied for sixth.
Jordan Spieth, who entered the final round with a share of the lead, stumbled to a five-over 76 and finished in a tie for ninth.