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Player Feature

Francesco Molinari


How he won The Open

The time was 8:26am and the weather was fine, the sun out and not a cloud in the Angus sky as Francesco Molinari stepped onto the tee box at Carnoustie on July 19, 2018 for his opening shot of The 147th Open.

Eighty-two hours and 11 minutes later, he played his last and, after a further 39, the Italian was lifting up the Claret Jug, the first from his country to do so, and for the first time in his career understanding what it was like to be a major champion.

Here is the story of how he did it.

An unfriendly relationship

When he struck his maiden drive down the fairway of the Peninsula hole at Carnoustie on the Thursday morning, Molinari did so a man who had finished no better than tied for ninth at The Open.

He did so back in 2013 and had done no better in major competition elsewhere; an undoubtedly promising young golfer, he had won five times on the European Tour, once on the PGA and claimed the WGC-HSBC in 2010, not to mention his contribution to Ryder Cup winning teams in 2010 and 2012.

Playing with Justin Thomas and Branden Grace, Molinari’s was a name well-known, but he was by no means among the favourites for the Claret Jug that weekend – he was, however, a man bang in form, with three wins in his previous six tournaments.

“For the first time I felt like I was ready for it” Francesco MOlinari

An opening round of 70 had him one under par, but troubling neither the upper echelons of the leaderboard – Kevin Kisner was -5, Tony Finau, Zander Lombard and Erik van Rooyen -4 – nor the pundit’s predictions.

A one-over 72 followed on Friday, and Molinari made the +3 cut, but remained well out of contention, Zach Johnson now having joined Kisner at -6 – there was work to do indeed.

A Saturday to remember

With hindsight, the third round is where Molinari won his Open title, but at the time he had once again slipped under the radar – perhaps the way he wanted it.

There were scores to be had on the Saturday at Carnoustie, and Molinari made sure he did not miss the boat.

His six-under 65 catapulted him to within three of the lead, but once again other names hit the headlines.

Reigning champion Jordan Spieth similarly carded a 65 to shoot himself level with compatriots Kisner and Xander Schauffele at the summit, while Justin Rose shot 64 – a tie for the lowest Open round at Carnoustie.

The spectre at the feast, however, was Tiger Woods; the American a shot behind Molinari and on the charge after a 66 seemed to herald his tilt for a first major since 2008.

The perfect Sunday

His -6 on the final morning good enough for an ante-penultimate group, but fate would deliver yet another blessing for Molinari as he was drawn to play alongside Woods.

Thriving away from the public eye all weekend, the pairing ensured that the focus would once again pass him by.

The pressure was off then, and Molinari knew exactly what he had to do, and pars on each and every one of the first 13 holes were evidence enough of his steady hand.

By that point he was tied for the lead, Schauffele, Kisner and Spieth all reigned in.

A hole later and he was out there in front with Schauffele, a birdie on 14, calmly done, delivered in controlled fashion.

Three more pars and he was onto the famous 18th and leading the open, but still the pressure did not tell.

He sent a crushing drive down Lismore, before sending a wedge to within five feet.

It was a putt he was never going to miss, duly rolling it in with ease to take the outright lead and end Tiger’s chances.

Minutes later, Schauffele put paid to his own, bogeying 17 to all-but deliver the jug to Molinari.

Needing eagle on 18 to force a play-off, Molinari kept himself warm on the putting green in case of a miracle, but it never came from Schauffele.

A miracle it was, however, for Molinari; even though no-one had seen it coming up until the very last minute.

“What a week!” he began his speech, clutching the Claret Jug.

“It is absolutely amazing. It will take a long time to sink in. It’s been a great week.

“The course bit me a few times the first couple of days, but then to go bogey free over the weekend on a course like this is incredible.

“I was as composed as much as you can be on the final round of The Open. But for the first time I felt like I was ready for it.”