Nerveless Molinari becomes Italy's first Champion Golfer
Form and class combined as Francesco Molinari achieved his boyhood dream to win The Open at Carnoustie.
Molinari produced a bogey-free round under the most extreme pressure to end on eight-under, two strokes clear of the field, and become the first Italian to win a major golf title, 23 years after Costantino Rocca went so close at St Andrews.
In ten previous appearances at the world’s oldest major the Italian had missed four cuts and only once has he finished inside the top 10 - back in 2013.
But few players are in richer form than the 35-year old, who won his maiden PGA Tour title by a mammoth eight strokes last month and claimed the biggest European Tour crown of his career at Wentworth in May.
Those wins have brought riches and expectation but this brings something more valuable - a place in his nation’s sporting history.
"I feel disbelief. It is amazing to be here with the Claret Jug,” he said, after incredibly managing to play 36 holes of weekend golf, on one of the world's most demanding courses, without dropping a shot.
“I knew I was coming in with good golf but my record here was terrible, so I was not optimistic about the week. I did not want to think about it and just focus on hitting the shots.
"To look at the names on the Claret Jug, they are the best in history. For me, to come from Italy, it has been an incredible journey.
"If Ferrari win, they get the headlines but hopefully this is still massive news. To achieve something like this is on another level. Hopefully, there are a lot of kids watching on TV today and they get as inspired as I was."
He started the day three shots back from leaders Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele and kept his head while all around were losing theirs.
It was an afternoon of undiluted sporting drama, with plot lines dismissed as implausible by most scriptwriters.
Tiger Woods rolled back the years for the second straight day, producing a swaggering front nine as he surged to the top of the leaderboard. It seemed fate this group would produce the Champion Golfer and so it did, just not the one expected.
Woods's playing partner Molinari kept his head down and maintained his focus, he was not interested in playing a supporting role.
The 14-time major champion ultimately finished three shots back from the Italian, a double bogey at 11 and bogey at 12 ultimately denying those who wanted to write a fairytale story.
Molinari picked up a birdie on the 14th to put himself top of the leaderboard - which at one point was crowed with six players who couldn’t be separated.
But a brilliant and nerveless 18th - a hole that has been the undoing of so many at Carnoustie over the years - sealed his victory, his first birdie there this week.
He went to the putting green to prepare for the play-off but when Xander Schauffele, his nearest rival, dropped a shot at the 17th, meaning he needed an eagle at the last, it was all over.
"I could not watch Xander play the last two holes so I went to the putting green. I would have been sick," added Molinari.
"Tiger was great. There are a lot more people if you are grouped with him than if you are playing with some of the other guys. I have done it before so I knew what was coming.
Justin Rose, who needed a birdie at the 18th on Friday to make the cut, finished in a tie for second with Rory McIlroy, whose charge ignited, flickered and ultimately faded. Americans Kevin Kisner and Schauffele joined them two shots back of Molinari.
Then came Woods and England’s Eddie Pepperell, who posted the best round of the day with a 67. Scotland’s Sam Locke won the Silver Medal for leading amateur.
Molinari's win continues the course of third round leaders when Carnoustie stages The Open - this is the eighth Open on these fabled links and only one, Ben Hogan in 1953, managed to hang on to win the Claret Jug.
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