Molinari tames Carnoustie for first major championship
July 22, 2018
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Francesco Molinari shot a bogey-free 69 to win The Open Championship by two shots. (Getty Images)
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Francesco Molinari and Carnoustie didn’t used to be on friendly terms. He used to skip a pro tournament here on Scotland’s Angus coast because of bad memories at the notoriously tough track.
Any course can be overcome, however, when a golfer is on a roll like Molinari’s recent run. He had two wins and two runners-up in four starts before arriving in Scotland.
Make that three wins. Molinari has won half of his last six starts after a flawless final-round performance at Carnoustie. He shot a bogey-free 69 to win The Open Championship by two shots.
“I got beaten up around here a few times already in the past. I didn’t particularly enjoy that feeling,” he said. “It’s a really tough golf course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots you just have to hit it straight. There’s no way around it.”
A month ago, he was worried about keeping his PGA TOUR card and qualifying for the FedExCup Playoffs. Now he seems a shoe-in for the TOUR Championship and is a top contender to win the season-long race. Molinari is now seventh in the FedExCup, a leap of 116 spots in the past four weeks.
His recent success started with a win at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and runner-up in the open championship of his native Italy.
Molinari then won his first PGA TOUR title at the Quicken Loans National, finishing eight shots ahead of the field with a dominant ball-striking performance. He was runner-up at the John Deere Classic before taking the tournament’s charter flight to Scotland.
Molinari arrived with the confidence to conquer Carnoustie. Even playing with Tiger Woods – the same man who’d handed him the Quicken Loans trophy – wasn’t going to shake him.
“When I came here, I felt I was ready for the challenge,” he said.
Now Molinari owns the lowest score (276) in an Open Championship at Carnoustie. He held off a bevvy of strong players to do it. Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Kevin Kisner and reigning Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele and were runners-up. Jordan Spieth shared the 54-hole lead. And Woods held the lead briefly Sunday.
“It’s amazing to stand here with the Claret Jug,” Molinari said. “I knew I was coming in with some good golf but my record around here was terrible. So that didn’t make me too optimistic about the week, but I tried not to think about it and focus on hitting good shots day by day.
Spieth gaining confidence with putter, game: For the second straight year, Jordan Spieth was scrambling to find his golf ball in the final round of The Open Championship. Last year, he used a creative drop on the driving range to keep his hopes alive. The fiasco galvanized Spieth, who summoned the strength to win the Claret Jug with a memorable finish. Hitting into the gorse didn’t have the same effect this year.
Spieth made double-bogey on the sixth hole after taking an unplayable lie. He struggled to rally, though, shooting 2 over par on the final 12 holes. It added up to a 5-over 76 for Spieth, who shared the 54-hole lead with Kisner and Xander Schauffele.
“I never got down on myself. I never got angry,” said Spieth, who finished T9. “I just didn’t make a putt today. I hit really good putts, too. My stroke is there. It’s back, which feels awesome.”
Putting struggles have defined Spieth’s season. He arrived in Scotland ranked 175th in Strokes Gained: Putting. This was his first top-10 since he nearly won the Masters.
“Throughout the round, (I) felt the most comfortable that I’ve felt at a Sunday in a major in my life,” Spieth said. “It didn’t go my way, mainly because I just didn’t make anything.”
Webb Simpson: THE PLAYERS champion finished T12 after shooting 73 in the final round. Simpson remained 11th in the FedExCup. He also finished 10th at the U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods: The two-time FedExCup champion almost won his first major in a decade, briefly taking the solo lead Sunday at Carnoustie. He shot 37 on the back nine to finish three shots behind Molinari, though. Woods’ T6 finish was enough for him to qualify for the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. He jumped from 50th to 43rd in the FedExCup.
Justin Rose: Rose, a two-time winner this season, was the highest-ranked player in the FedExCup to play the weekend after the top 3 – Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson – all missed the cut. Rose had to birdie the 18th hole just to make the cut on the weekend. He shot 64-69 in the final two rounds to post his best career finish in The Open. He moved up one spot to No. 3 in the FedExCup and almost won a second event at a course known as “Hogan’s Alley.” He won earlier this year at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth.
Tony Finau: He is 10th in the FedExCup after posting his third top-10 in a major this year. Finau finished 10th in the Masters after suffering a gruesome ankle injury on the eve of the first round. Then he played in the final group at Shinnecock Hills before finishing fifth. He was T9 at Carnoustie, four shots behind Molinari after shooting 67-71-71-71.
Xander Schauffele: The reigning Rookie of the Year had a chance to in a major in his second PGA TOUR season. Schauffele, who played alongside Spieth in the final group, had a 10-foot putt at 16 to reach 8 under. He missed that, then bogeyed the 17th hole to fall two behind Molinari. Schauffele rebounded from a front-nine 40 to shoot 34 on the back nine and finish two behind the champion. “Jordan and I got off to a weird start, feeding off each other in the worst ways possible, and we sort of kind of calmed the sails midround,” he said. “I was just happy to have a chance to win with four or five holes to play.” Schauffele also was runner-up at this year’s THE PLAYERS and T6 at the U.S. Open. He moved to 23rd in the FedExCup.
Rory McIlroy: The 2016 FedExCup champion tied the lead with an eagle at the par-5 14th hole, but he parred the final four holes to finish two behind Molinari. The runner-up was McIlroy’s best finish in a major since winning the 2014 PGA Championship. He had just a wedge remaining to the 18th green, but blocked it 20 feet right of the flag and missed the putt. McIlroy, winner of this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, moved to 24th in the FedExCup.
Kevin Kisner: This was Kisner’s second 54-hole lead in the past four majors. He shot 74 both times. Kisner held a one-shot lead at Quail Hollow before finishing seventh. He double-bogeyed the last hole while firing at the flag in a last-ditch effort to catch Justin Thomas. Kisner shot 40-34 at Carnoustie to finish second, his best career finish in a major. The 2017 Presidents Cup team member moved to 35th in the FedExCup.
QUOTABLESI was a little hungover. I won't lie.I told (my kids) I tried and I said, ‘Hopefully you’re proud of your pops for trying as hard as I did.'I have no regrets. I played the way I wanted to play this week.My game all together is back. … It’s all there and it’s moving in the right direction.