Another Iceman cometh; for, just as others melted in the white heat of chasing the Claret Jug, Francesco Molinari coolly and calmly stuck to his task to produce the only bogey-free final round of the 147th British Open to become the first Italian ever to win the famous trophy. Or any Major.
He did it his way, too.
And as some of the biggest names in the sport postured, it was Molinari who ultimately delivered on the 18th green with a stunning birdie finish for a 69 for a total of 276, nine-under-par, which gave the man from Turin a two-stroke winning margin over the quartet of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner.
“He’s always been a great player . . . there’s going to be a lot of European players vying for his partnership at the Ryder Cup, that’s for sure,” said McIlroy – who came up two shots shy – of Molinari’s stellar form which has made him the hottest player on the planet in the past two months.
Molinari has been darn near unstoppable of late, contending time and time again. Indeed, his run of results is 1st-2nd-25th-1st-2nd-1st in his last six tournaments: that first win came in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May and he has bookended it with the biggest victory of his career in the Open itself.
Cast of characters
What made victory all the more impressive was the cast of characters who were intent on disrupting his ascent to the grand prize. Apart from McIlroy and Co, who ultimately finished second, a certain Tiger Woods held the lead on his own at the business end of things. Woods led after 10 holes, only to be undone by a double bogey on the 11th from which he never recovered.
“For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win. My mindset was to go out and spoil the party,” admitted McIlroy. It didn’t come to that. But McIlroy’s second-place finish was his best result in a Major since he won the US PGA at Valhalla in 2014. “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 [the PGA in St Louis next month],” he added.
From someone like me coming from Italy, not really a major golfing country, it's been an incredible journey
Molinari’s win – which earned him €1.62 million – moved him to the top of the latest European Tour money list and jumped him to a career-high sixth in the latest official world rankings.
“It’s just disbelief. To look at the names on that Claret Jug, obviously, what can you say? It’s the best golfers in history, and to be on there, it’s incredible. From someone like me coming from Italy, not really a major golfing country, it’s been an incredible journey,” said the 35-year-old, who had the added pressure of actually playing alongside Woods on the final day.
“I’ve played with him before in Ryder Cups and in big occasions, so I knew what was coming, and I was ready for it . . . Clearly, in my group, the attention wasn’t really on me, let’s put it that way. If someone was expecting a charge, probably they weren’t expecting it from me, but it’s been the same the whole of my career. I don’t really care too much about it.”
And why should he? Molinari’s actions spoke louder than words, as he played bogey-free golf over the weekend to become the Champion Golfer of the Year. He will defend his title at Royal Portrush in Co Antrim in 12 months’ time, when the championship returns to the Causeway Coast for only the second time and the first since 1951.
Of all those who stirred the senses on a special Sunday where so many had a chance to get a grip on the Jug, it was Woods’s remarkable comeback from injury – and a chance to add to his haul of 14 career Majors – which added to the day’s drama.
“I’m a little ticked off at myself for sure. I had a chance starting that back nine to do something and I didn’t do it . . . [but] it was a blast. I need to try and keep perspective because, at the beginning of the year, if they’d said you’re playing the Open championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that,” said Woods, who finished three shots adrift in tied-sixth.
If there was a consolation for Woods, it was that his three-way tie for sixth place was sufficient to allow him to return to the top 50 – in, exactly, 50th position – in the world rankings to secure a place in next week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. Small mercies, but welcome nonetheless.