After an enthralling, nail-biting final day of The 147th Open at Carnoustie, Francesco Molinari emerged from the pack today to claim the Claret Jug in the style of a true Champion.
Not only did he loosen the stranglehold of American players on the four Major championships, the 35-year-old Europe Ryder Cup player became the first Italian to win the oldest and most coveted of trophies. And he did so with the grace and charm for which he has become renowned within the game.
While it would be fair to say that Molinari came in under the radar this week – inevitable, perhaps, with the likes of Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and a plethora of Major champions in the field – a look at his form coming into the Championship would have revealed a player at the top of his game. He was not to be underestimated.
In his previous five starts, Molinari had won twice and finished runner-up twice. Most telling was that he beat McIlroy down the stretch at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May and followed up with his first victory in America, where he finished eight strokes ahead of his nearest rival after a final round of 62 (yes, 62) at the Quicken Loans National.
To watch Molinari up close is to see a player seemingly in complete control of his game. Seasoned observers have described him as a player “with all the components”, metronomic almost. He is unerringly straight off the tee, a fine iron player who is also blessed with a good short game.He also has a fabulous temperament, something which was needed in the final round to cope with the relative mayhem that goes with playing alongside Woods, his playing partner on the day. The 14-time Major champion may have taken the outright lead at one point, yet Molinari showed no sign that the excitement surrounding them was affecting him.
Earlier this year, Molinari suggested he had to find a killer instinct. And so he has. Much of that is probably down to the work he has done with Dave Alred, the performance coach, who first became known for his work with Jonny Wilkinson, the England rugby union player, and then golf’s Luke Donald, who subsequently climbed to No1 in the world.
Alred’s influence is evident in the way Molinari sets his targets. It almost certainly explains how he managed to play the last two rounds at Carnoustie without dropping a shot. In fact, he was the only player in the field on the final day to have a bogey-free round, one of 69 that followed a third round of 65.
His eight-under-par total of 276 brought him victory by two strokes over four others – Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner, McIlroy and Schauffele.
“It’s a process that you go through in your mind,” he explained earlier this year. “In a nutshell, for us golfers it’s picking a spot as small and detailed as possible and seeing it in your mind’s eye when it’s time to pull the trigger. That usually helps get rid of all the negative thoughts because you’re not thinking about anything else but that spot.”
Such focus came into play at the 7th, 12th and 13th holes, when he holed clutch putts to save par. And it came to the fore at the 72nd hole with a fearless drive on the most fearsome of holes and an arrow-like shot from 115 yards to within four feet of the hole for his second birdie of the day.
On eight under par he had set a clubhouse target that only America’s Xander Schauffele could match. It was not to be.
Molinari was sitting watching in the scorers’ hut when Schauffele missed a putt for par at the 17th that brought an end to his challenge. As is typical of the man, he did not show delight at a fellow competitor’s misfortune, but instead headed to the putting green to gather his thoughts. Such is the Champion Golfer of 2018. Pure class.