CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It was only fitting that Francesco Molinari would win the British Open. The Italian was the hottest player coming into the 147th British Open, with two victories and two runners-up in his five previous starts worldwide.
During that eight-week stretch – won the BMW PGA, second at the Italian Open, T-25 at the U.S. Open, won the Quicken Loans National and T-2 at the John Deere Classic – Molinari seemed to gain strength from each performance. Though he was not the favorite entering the 147th British Open, he was part of the conversation. But with only one top-10 finish in 10 previous Opens, he didn’t generate a lot of serious attention.
That all changed Sunday under partly sunny skies at Carnoustie Golf Links on Scotland’s east coast. Molinari, 35, made the biggest statement of his 14-year professional career, winning the British Open by two shots over a who’s-who of golf.
“Just disbelief, to be honest,” Molinari said after he shot a bogey-free 2-under 69 for an 8-under 276 total and two-stroke victory (scores). “It's amazing to stand here with the Claret Jug. I knew I was coming in with some good golf. My record around here was terrible,” he said, in reference to a missed cut in the 2007 Open at Carnoustie. “So that didn't make me too optimistic about the week, but I just tried to not think about it and focus on hitting good shots day by day.”
© GOLFFILE/FRAN CAFFREY
Francesco Molinari becomes the first Italian to claim the Claret Jug.
Finishing the second round, Molinari made a double-bogey 6 on the 17th hole, dropping him to even par for the championship. With a par on the final hole, he stood six strokes off the pace set by Americans Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner at 6 under.
From that point, Molinari played bogey-free golf, jumping over 27 other players. He faced down a leaderboard loaded with major champions such as Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth. In Sunday’s third-to-last pairing, Molinari outplayed 14-time major champion Tiger Woods.
“Clearly, in my group, the attention wasn't really on me, let's put it that way,” Molinari said of being paired with Woods. “If someone was expecting a charge, probably they weren't expecting it from me, but it's been the same the whole of my career. I don't really care too much about it. I care about the people around me, the work that we put in. They know how much we've all worked to get here. So that's the most important thing for me.”
It wasn’t much of a charge for the first 13 holes as Molinari posted all pars. Meanwhile, the top of the leaderboard changed repeatedly as third-round co-leaders Spieth, Kisner and Xander Schauffele fell back. Woods made a brief appearance at the top.
Yet, Molinari never flinched. While others struggled, Molinari made his move, beginning with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th hole. He added an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole and then waited as his one-stroke lead increased to two and ultimately a Claret Jug.
© GOLFFILE/FRAN CAFFREY
Francesco Molinari parlays steady play and timely birdies to keep Tiger Woods and the rest of the field behind him at the British Open.
Molinari, 35, of Turin, became the first Italian to win a major championship.
With his victory, Molinari jumps from No. 15 to sixth in the Official World Golf Ranking. He will be in the discussion in future major championships, beginning with the PGA in two weeks. Molinari seems to be just fine with his new status in the game.
“To look at the names on that Claret Jug, obviously, what can you say?” Molinari said proudly. “It's the best golfers in history, and to be on there, it's incredible. From someone like me, coming from Italy, not really a major golfing country, it's been an incredible journey.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli