Sunday 19 January 2020

Faultless Francesco Molinari holds nerve in thrilling finish to land Open title

Italy’s Molinari carded a nerveless closing 69 at a windswept Carnoustie.

By Phil Casey, Press Association Sport Golf Correspondent

Francesco Molinari became the first Italian player to win a major title after one of the most dramatic final rounds in Open Championship history.

Molinari, who had two wins and two second places in his previous five starts this season, carded a nerveless closing 69 at a windswept Carnoustie to finish eight under par, two shots clear of Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele.

Playing alongside a rejuvenated Tiger Woods, Molinari followed 13 straight pars with a birdie on the 14th and finished a brilliant round in fitting style with another from just three feet on the 18th.

“I’m lost for words really,” said Molinari, whose finished joint second in last year’s US PGA Championship. “It’s incredible to do something like this and I’m very proud of what I’ve done.

“It’s amazing to stand here with the Claret Jug. I knew I was coming in with some good golf but my record around here was terrible so that didn’t make me too optimistic about the week, but I just tried to not think about it and focus on hitting good shots day by day.”

Rose, who had birdied the 18th in the second round just to make the cut, followed his record-equalling 64 on Saturday with a 69, while McIlroy recovered from a slow start with the aid of an eagle on the 14th to record his third straight top five in the Open.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth went into the final round tied for the lead with Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, but stumbled to the turn in 39 and Kisner managed one shot worse to throw the tournament wide open.

For much of the afternoon it looked as though everything was falling into place for Woods to pull off a barely believable victory, his first of any description since 2013, the 15th major of his amazing career and a first since the 2008 US Open.

Birdies at the fourth and sixth took Woods to the turn in 34 and, with the leaders crumbling, gave the 42-year-old a one-shot lead over Molinari and Spieth, who had double-bogeyed the sixth after hitting his second shot into a gorse bush.

But just when one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time seemed on the cards, Woods failed to pull off a risky flop shot to get out of trouble on the 11th and ran up a deflating double bogey.

“I’m a little ticked off at myself for sure,” admitted Woods, who also bogeyed the 11th. “I had a chance starting that back nine to do something and I didn’t do it.”

While Woods faded the drama was just beginning elsewhere, with McIlroy following birdies on the ninth and 11th with an eagle from 35 feet on the 14th.

That vaulted the Northern Irishman into a six-way tie for the lead and Rose joined the expanding group on six under with a tap-in birdie on the 18th, but Molinari broke out of the pack with his first birdie of the day on the 14th as McIlroy failed to find a vital birdie on the last.

Schauffele, who had struggled to the turn in 40, birdied the 10th and 14th to join Molinari in the lead, but bogeyed the 17th and was unable to find the magical finish required to deny Molinari a deserved victory, 23 years after compatriot Costantino Rocca’s play-off loss to John Daly at St Andrews.

“Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Costantino in ’95 coming so close,” Molinari said. “Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was at the time.”

Spieth’s bid to become the first back-to-back Open champion since Padraig Harrington in 2008 came to a miserable end with a closing 76 to finish four shots off the pace.

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