British Open 2018: Francesco Molinari makes history, hoists Claret Jug after epic battle
A dream season continued for the Italian ball-striking king at Carnoustie
Francesco Molinari played a dream-like, bogey-free final round at the 147th Open Championship on Sunday to win the first major of his career and first ever for an Italian golfer. Molinari shot a 2-under 69 to get to 8 under overall at Carnoustie and took home the Claret Jug by two over Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele.
Following 13 straight pars to start the day, Molinari pushed it to red numbers with a birdie on the par-4 14th. A few more heart-racing pars at the gauntlet of holes Nos. 15-17, and it looked like a par at the last would be enough (it would have been). Molinari wanted to make sure, though, so he ended the tournament. A birdie and a fist pump sealed the deal, even with players behind him to finish it out. Molinari knew what he'd just done.
"I'll never forget [that putt]," he told NBC.
On a day when supernovas Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy all held the lead or co-lead of the third major of 2018, Molinari, who played alongside Woods, emerged the champion. The win not only made history for Italian golfers, it continued a year-long heater for him.
"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."
The Italian is having the best season of his career, and this is easily the greatest win of his life. It was deserved, too. He hit 26 of 36 greens in regulation on the weekend, didn't make a bogey for the final 37 holes (!) of the tournament and birdied the last. Champions always birdie the last. After playing the first two round in even par, Molinari shot 65-69 on the weekend. His Saturday 65 was second best on the day, and his Sunday 69 was third best.
"Incredible to go bogey-free on the weekend," Molinari said after the round. "I knew I still had a chance going into Saturday. Yesterday was a big day because we knew the conditions were as easy as it was going to get. To shoot 6 under yesterday was massive. Today was different kind of golf, more pars. I missed a few shots, but I got up and down from everywhere. Incredible to go bogey-free on a course like this."
Molinari won the 2018 BMW PGA Championship -- Europe's version of the Players Championship -- two months ago over McIlroy. It was, at the time, the trophy he wanted most. "It would be this one," Molinari said at the time when asked which event he would choose to win.
Two months later, he has to recant that statement.
After that victory in Europe, he went on to win Tiger's event -- the Quicken Loans National -- by eight strokes last month on the PGA Tour. He played there because he decided to skip the French Open in Europe to try and grab his PGA Tour card for 2018-19. Doesn't look like that will be a problem now.
Throw on top of those two the title of Champion Golfer of the Year, and it has been a hell of a run for maybe the most underrated ball-striker in the world.
It was fitting, too, that on a day when the biggest tides in golf rose and fell with great fervor, Molinari, his metronomic move and tidy short game allowed him to bide his time. It was nothing special for the first three hours, then he closed. Softly at first and then not softly at all.
"A lot of things pop up in you mind [down the stretch], but you need to erase them and focus on what you can control, what you can do," Molinari told NBC. "I felt ready for today before the start. I knew it was going to be tough, but I thought everyone was going to struggle a bit so I could use it to my advantage. I did a great job of that."
Carnoustie was a star -- one of many -- this week, and as we've seen over the years, she asks for 72 holes of your attention. Look at the last two Opens held there. Both upended players at the very end. Not this one. This time, the man who looked poised to guzzle from the Claret Jug not only didn't lose focus, he put the hammer down for a championship.
The American streak at majors is over. Stars came and went in the final round. They sneaked up on the lead, embraced it and tried to hang on. None of them could. Even as the event seemed like it would sway a monstrous legacy in Scotland on Sunday, it never did. While the biggest names in golf put a jolt into what turned out to be another fabulous Open, the metronome kept ticking.
Francesco Molinari won like he played -- quietly and and consistently. It's what Carnoustie demanded.
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