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Dublin: 5°C Sunday 28 February 2021

Molinari shoots blemish-free final round in Carnoustie to become first ever Italian major winner

Francesco Molinari has captured his first major.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

ITALY’S FRANCESCO MOLINARI emerged from the pack on a thrilling final day at Carnoustie to win The Open Championship on Sunday, seeing off the challenges of reigning champion Jordan Spieth and a revived Tiger Woods to win the first major of his career.

At the age of 35, he becomes the first Italian ever to win a major, after keeping his cool in remarkable fashion when almost all around him seemed to be losing theirs on a windy afternoon.

A two-under-par round of 69 allowed him to finish on eight-under, two shots clear of the quartet of Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner on six-under.

Turin native Molinari went 37 holes without dropping a shot en route to his first ever major victory.

Molinari had started the day three shots behind a trio of overnight leaders in Schauffele, Kisner and Spieth, who were all nine under par when they teed off.

The latter had been hoping to become the first player since Padraig Harrington a decade ago to retain the Claret Jug, but he faded with a final-round 76 to finish on four-under.

Meanwhile Woods, who was playing with Molinari, was in the outright lead at one point on Sunday but ended with a 71 to finish in a tie for sixth with England’s Eddie Pepperell and Kevin Chappell of the United States.

Molinari was not at all fazed by the huge crowds and the media circus following Woods, and he did not have a single bogey all day, following on from a blemish-free 65 on Saturday.

Indeed, he had 13 successive pars before a birdie at the long 14th hole and then another birdie at the 18th. He then embraced his caddy, although he still had to wait for Schauffele to come down the last and for his victory to be confirmed.

His success ends a run of five consecutive majors being won by Americans, and confirms an incredible run of form for Molinari after his victory at the PGA Championship at Wentworth in England in May and a first PGA Tour win at the Quicken Loans National recently.

“It’s amazing to stand here with the Claret Jug. My record around here was terrible, which didn’t make me too optimistic about the week,” he said.

“Very proud of today, obviously playing with Tiger was another challenge because of the crowds, but I felt really good coming here this morning and felt ready for a challenge.”

It was a surprise to see any one player finish clear of the pack after an afternoon of twists and turns that had left a play-off — as there had been in each of the last three Opens here — looking inevitable.

It also seemed a good bet that there would be an American winner, especially after the United States had dominated the leaderboard on Saturday night.

But while last year Spieth survived a wobble in the final round at Royal Birkdale to take the title, this time he was too erratic, not recovering from a bogey at the fifth that was followed by a double-bogey at the long sixth where his second shot found a gorse bush.

“When you put yourself in position enough times, it goes your way sometimes, it doesn’t go your way sometimes,” said Spieth, who was hoping to become only the third player to win four majors before turning 25, after Young Tom Morris and Woods.

For Woods this was not to be the weekend where he finally claimed his 15th major title, a decade after his last at the US Open.

However, Carnoustie did announce his return to the top of the sport, with the 42-year-old captivating the crowds, especially on Saturday when he shot a superb 66.

That had catapulted him right into contention, but after going out in front on his own midway through Sunday, he promptly dropped three strokes in two holes at the 11th and 12th.

He could not recover his challenge after that, and a fourth British Open title will have to wait.

The Open Championship 2018 - Day Four - Carnoustie Golf Links Source: PA Wire/PA Images

“It felt great to be a part of the mix and build my way into the championship. Today was a day that I had a great opportunity,” Woods admitted.

Schauffele and Kisner both shot 74 as their challenges for a first major faded.

Meanwhile, McIlroy’s second straight round of 70 was not enough for him to claim a first major since 2014, while Rose claimed a surprisingly high finish, with his 69 following a 64 on Saturday after he only just made the cut for the weekend.

The four-time major winner put memories of a flat final-round performance at the Masters firmly behind him with a battling last round on Sunday as he posted a one-under-par 70 to finish six-under overall.

The 29-year-old’s bid to add a fifth major, four years on from his last, may have fallen just short but a return to the daring and carefree style of his younger days seems to have paid off.

Rather than going into his shell as he did in the final pairing with eventual champion Patrick Reed at Augusta this year, he didn’t let a frustrating front nine at Carnoustie — including two bogeys in the first five holes — crush his spirit.

The Open Championship 2018 - Day Four - Carnoustie Golf Links Source: Richard Sellers

“My mindset was go and spoil the party here,” said McIlroy.

“It was cool. It was really cool. I have no regrets. I played the way I wanted to play this week.

“It gives me a lot of encouragement going into the final major of the year.

“I didn’t get off to a great start, but I hung in there, and I battled back.”

“I don’t really feel like it’s a defeat,” said McIlroy.

“I feel like it’s a good week. One guy out of 156 is going to win. 155 other guys are going to leave a little disappointed.”

McIlroy, who will have the extra incentive of trying to win next year in front of his home fans at Portrush in Northern Ireland, said he had left nothing out on the golf course.

“I committed to everything. I hit the shots when I needed to. I made good swings on 17 and on 18.

“You know, it just wasn’t to be — I just ran out of holes.”

© Agence France-Presse

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