Noren and Molinari lay down Carnoustie markers
Sparkling Sundays saw Alex Noren and Francesco Molinari continue their preparations for The 147th Open with sensational victories, while a septet of golfers also booked their spot at Carnoustie in three weeks’ time.
The manner of their victories stood in stark contrast – Noren coming from miles down the field to win the French Open by a stroke, while Molinari turned an overnight joint lead at the Quicken Loans National into a runaway success – but the Sunday rounds were equally impressive.
In-form Swede Noren sat three-over-par heading into the weekend at Le Golf National but a 65 on Saturday and a 67 just 24 hours later was ultimately enough to post seven-under and take his tenth European Tour title by one spot from Chris Wood, Julian Suri and Russell Knox.
Suri and Knox found some consolation in securing exemptions for The Open later this month, as did overnight leader Marcus Kinhult, who finished in a tie for fifth at five-under.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Molinari tore the TPC Potomac course to shreds, especially on a back nine where he made a 50ft eagle putt on the tenth before reeling off four consecutive birdies, to shoot 62 and secure an eight-shot triumph at 21-under.
American Ryan Armour finished second to seal a place at Carnoustie, while Sung Kang, Abraham Ancer and Bronson Burgoon will also be heading to Angus after high finishes in Maryland.
Noren lays down a marker
One ice-cool Swede became Champion Golfer of the Year in 2016, in the form of Henrik Stenson, and if he plays like he did over the weekend, then you’d be hard pushed to back against Noren emulating his countryman at Carnoustie.
The 35-year-old sat seven shots behind Kinhult on three-under heading into Sunday but ground out an impressive 67 – including birdies at 16 and 17 – to set the clubhouse target at seven-under.
He then watched any and all challengers – from a field including Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia – crumble over a treacherous final four holes that will surely have a huge bearing on proceedings when the Ryder Cup heads to Le Golf National in September.
Suri bogeyed 15 and double-bogeyed the last, while Wood also bogeyed 15 and 17, as the pair of them agonisingly came up one shot short of their Scandinavian foe.
Most Swedish European Tour wins:— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 2, 2018
0⃣6⃣ Fasth pic.twitter.com/3WANsX2zaX
“It's unbelievable, I never thought I was going to win," said Noren, who finished tied for sixth at The Open 12 months ago.
“It's a tricky golf course and the first two days were really tough for me, but I played much better on the weekend.”
Molinari ends his drought
Meanwhile, Molinari was in a record-setting mood at the Quicken Loans National as his eight-under round of 62 blew the rest of the field away.
From being joint leader with Ancer overnight, the Italian quickly turned the final round into a procession with an eagle at ten and then four straight birdies to finish at 21-under, breaking the tournament record by seven shots and matching the largest margin of victory on the PGA Tour this year at eight strokes.
The 35-year-old became the first Italian to triumph on the PGA Tour since Toney Penna in 1947 and is hurtling towards Carnoustie in incredible form after also clinching the BMW PGA Championship a month ago.
"It was a lot easier than I thought," grinned Molinari. "I played great. The start of the back nine was incredible.
“Obviously there's been quite a few Italians winning on the European Tour, but it's nice to be the first in a long time to win over here.
“It's one of the many reasons why I wanted to win over here so much. Hopefully, there's more to come.”
Tiger’s putting up a storm
Tiger Woods changed his putter – going from blade to mallet style – ahead of the trip to Maryland this week and declared the new stick a success after tying for fourth.
Woods’ Sunday 66 was his lowest final round in more than five years and the three-time Champion Golfer is feeling positive as he puts the final touches on his Carnoustie preparations.
“I've hit the ball well in this stretch, I just haven't made anything,” explained Woods, who finished seventh in the field for strokes gained putting this week.
“And finally I'm starting to hit some putts, I'm starting to make those putts you're supposed to make from 10, 15 feet, but I'm also making some from outside 20.
“I haven't done that for the better part of two months. So that was nice to make over 100 foot of putts twice this week. That's a positive sign.”
Both tournaments this weekend doubled as part of The Open Qualifying Series, with spots on offer for the highest-finishing players not already exempt for The 147th Open.
American Suri, Scotsman Knox and Swede Kinhult will all tee it up at Carnoustie after strong performances at the French Open and 21-year-old Kinhult will experience an Open for the first time.
There will also be three further Open debutants as part of the quartet that qualified via the Quicken Loans National, with American duo Burgoon and Armour, and Mexico’s Ancer, all heading for a new experience.
Kang also booked a place thanks to his final round 64 and will look to improve on his tied-44th finish achieved at Royal Birkdale 12 months ago.
European Amateur Championship
Nicolai Hojgaard won the European Amateur Championship on Saturday with the Danish player shoting a final round 73 (+1), to add to his first three rounds of 71 (-1), 69 (-3), and 68 (-4) around Royal Hague G&CC, Netherlands, to finish on a total of seven-under-par.
Hojgaard held a one shot lead over England's Mitch Waite at the start of the final round. After exchanging the lead on the front nine with the English player multiple times, the Dane birdied the 16th hole to get to two-under-par for the day and head to the 72nd tee with a three shot lead. A double-bogey on the last hole would be enough to secure trophy, and a spot in The 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, by a single stroke.The 147th Open takes place at Carnoustie Golf Links, Angus, from 15-22 July and you can be there to witness history by securing your ticket at TheOpen.com/Tickets.