Carnoustie, 22 July 2018: It is funny how life can sneak in a surprise when you least expect it. And I am not even speaking for us. Even Francesco Molinari might have been surprised to see how the field colluded to leave the door open for him as the 147th Open Championship reached a dramatic conclusion.
The Italian took it with both hands, going bogey-free for 37 holes and quietly slipping under the radar to clinch a maiden major title. The one that truly matters. The fact that he did it in the company of Tiger Woods, who was attracting plenty of attention himself speaks volumes about the composure of the Italian.
Molinari had a week of two halves. He was even at the halfway stage after making scores of 70 and 72. There was barely any interest in the Italian, so much so that he hasn’t once been invited to the main press room this entire week.
Even when he made a stunning 65 in the third round, he was overshadowed by Justin Rose who made a 64. Jordan Spieth had us eating from his hand with a crew cut and a well crafted 65.
Going into Sunday, the storylines were dominated by Woods, Spieth and Xander Schauffele. Even Rory McIlroy and Rose threw their hats in the ring going up to 6-under as they entered the clubhouse ahead of the others.
The real champion though was lying in wait in the shadows. Molinari started the day at 6-under and kept up a steady stream of pars rolling one after another. With every passing hole, the drama was always elsewhere.
McIlroy had dropped to 3-under by the fifth and his chances were dissipating with the wind. Schauffele returned two shots to the course by the time he reached the seventh tee. Spieth was one worse after enduring a dramatic run of play at the 6th, including an unplayable, as he simmered down to 6-under.
Woods was creating a massive commotion along the way as he found a second birdie at the 6th to go 7-under and into the lead. As the climax drew closer and closer, Rose and McIlroy signed their cards of 69 and 70 respectively to settle into the warmth of the lounge at 6-under 278.
Molinari picked it up where everyone else was falling apart. He made his first move at the par-5 14th hole, caressing the putt for a fine birdie. That took him to 7-under and drew him into a battle with Schauffele.
He secured himself with a splendid approach shot to the 18th that left him just a small putt to seal his lead. He did just that, pouring the ball into the cup. Now all he needed to do was wait for Schauffele to finish.
The American’s challenge dissolved into the sand, when he found the bunker on the 17th, conceding a stroke. An eagle was needed at the final hole to force a playoff, but those are nearly extinct on this brutal course, soon as you cross the 14th.
1,319 volunteers worked to make life easy for the record 172,000 people that broke through the turnstiles to soak in the grand spectacle this week.
Molinari’s victory was not only the first for an Italian golfer but also broke a streak of five American victories in the majors.