My First Open
Francesco Molinari
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Carnoustie 2007
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Some narratives in sport seem to adopt a cyclical, romantic pattern – just ask 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari.

The Italian shot a bogey-free 69 at Carnoustie in a memorable final round that year, thwarting the predatory advances of Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and co to secure his inaugural Claret Jug and render him the first man from his country to not just win The Open, but any major at all.

But it all started more than a decade earlier at the same course for Molinari, a player who made his Open debut at Carnoustie in 2007 before returning eleven years on to permanently carve his name into Championship folklore.

Molinari’s first Open was a largely underwhelming affair – as an inexperienced 24-year-old, he shot opening rounds of 76 and 74 and failed to make the cut.

The damage was done on day one when he struggled to make the most of kind scoring conditions, finishing the day 11 strokes back from a fast-starting Sergio Garcia.

And, although Paul Lawrie had proven double digit comebacks were possible on the Angus links eight years earlier, Molinari could not extend his stay into the weekend.

He played much better on the Friday, a day where many of the early leaders stumbled.

Two-time defending Champion Golfer Tiger Woods double bogeyed the first hole on his way to a 74, while a certain amateur called Rory McIlroy could only muster a 76.

Molinari’s 74 was almost as good as a par in tougher conditions but with the cut line at +5, the Italian missed out by two.

But what his experience did do was lay the foundations for an evocative story of return and redemption.

“To look at the names on that Claret Jug, obviously, what can you say?” an emotional Molinari said upon winning in 2018.

“It’s the best golfers in history and to be on there it’s incredible, and from someone like me coming from Italy, not really a major golfing country, it’s been an incredible journey.

“To achieve something like this is on another level, and hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV, like I was watching Costantino (Rocca) coming so close (in 1995).

“The course bit me a few times in the first two days, but to go bogey-free around this track at the weekend is incredible. ”

Bit him indeed. Molinari went into the Saturday at Carnoustie a sizeable six shots off the lead, shooting opening rounds of 70 and 72 and leaving his Championship hopes dangling by a threat.

But the convivial Italian battled admirably, waltzing his way to a third round 65 to put himself back in contention and then treating the gathering crowds the next day to that near-faultless golfing masterclass.

And eleven years on from his Open debut at the same course, was it those lessons he took from Carnoustie in 2007 that allowed him to engineer the turnaround?

Given the acute difficulties he believes characterise the course, perhaps his experience there as an Open debutant did in fact serve him very well indeed.

“It’s a really tough course,” he added after his 2018 triumph.

“You can try and play smart golf, but some shots you just have to hit it straight – there’s no way around it, and you can’t really hide.

“I liked the way the course was playing but, again, it’s a beast of a course.

“I don’t think anyone feels too confident when they stand on that first tee at Carnoustie.”

He also revealed he had purposefully avoided competing in the Dunhill Links Championship in the autumn as he had been ‘beaten up’ on the links at Carnoustie a few times, perhaps a subtle allusion to that first Open in 2007 and the scars it still bears.

But the lessons learned from 2007 may not only be course-based ones – Padraig Harrington triumphed that year, holding off a defiant play-off challenge from Sergio Garcia to hold the Claret Jug aloft for the first time.

Molinari, a man who clearly seeks to take inspiration from others, also shared the course with the great Ernie Els on his Open bow, providing him with an early experience of how some of the finest players in the sport operate at a major championship.

And after his 2018 triumph, Molinari himself has now strolled into that well-trodden terrain of golfing greatness, joining a raft of the game’s most famous players who boast their presence on the Claret Jug.

Sport stories panning out in cycles? Look no further than Molinari.