Quiet man Molinari finally has say
Italian keeps his calm amid Carnoustie chaos for first Major with flawless round
With one of the great, and certainly most disciplined, final rounds in the Open Championship, Francesco Molinari repelled one of the great leaderboards to win his and Italy's first Major.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth - none of them were a match for the unassuming 35-year-old from Turin, who some will claim is a "robot", but is, in fact, rather more consistent and reliable.
This was another crazy Sunday at Carnoustie, this Angus links which does not so much have a penchant for drama as a junkie's addiction to the stuff.
Granted, the ridiculously clinical nature of Molinari's closing stretch did not afford this spectacle the mania of 1999 with Jean van de Velde and all that, or indeed, the most recent championship here of 2007, when Padraig Harrington double-bogeyed the 18th before winning in a play-off, but by then everyone's emotions here were in ribbons anyway.
Molinari, who lives in London with his wife and two children, actually had the temerity to birdie the 18th, that monster of a par four, for a 69 and an eight-under-par total. That basically took it out of the reach of the American Xander Schauffele, who ended up two shots behind in a tie for second with McIlroy, Rose and his fellow American Kevin Kisner.
While the rest of them blew leads, Molinari, a West Ham United fan, continued to bubble, recording a remarkable 16 pars and two birdies on a day when the wind played havoc. What made his success all the more remarkable was that he compiled it in the presence of Woods, just when he was contending once more on the final day of a Major.
As Woods stormed into the lead around the turn and the galleries went into apoplexy, certain they were bearing witness to a very special piece of golfing history, Molinari remained steadfast and carried on reeling off the pars.
For that final round he was surrounded by those spectators but they weren't necessarily there for him.
"Clearly, in my group, the attention wasn't really on me, let's put it that way," he said, sitting alongside the Claret Jug that had since been engraved with the name Francesco Molinari, the first Italian to ever win a Major.
"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. I care about the people around me, the work that we put in.
"They know how much we've all worked to get here. So that's the most important thing for me."
Those were sentiments echoed by Molinari's caddy, Pello Iguaran, as he struggled to process a victory that seemed to come from nowhere.
"We felt from the very beginning (that he could win) but the beginning was Tiger playing really well and it was tough.
"He made double on 11 that helped us go ahead. The consistency made Francesco win at the end.
"It was a really big mental fight and I think he deserved it because he is working so hard and that gave him the possibility to fight that good."
That work ethic was also singled out by Spieth, who has seen Molinari "working his butt off" and felt his victory was fully deserved.
"I see him in the gym all the time, going through his routine, grinding on the range, doing his own stuff."
On Twitter, his brother Edoardo - with whom he played with in the 2010 Ryder Cup - was imploring him to retain his composure. It was like asking the tide on the nearby North Sea to carry on going in and out. Molinari, the metronome, had been in high-pressure situations with Woods before, most notably in the final singles match of the 2012 Ryder Cup.
"Frankie", as he is known, kept his cool on that occasion to ensure the half point which completed the Miracle of Medinah and here he was again; puffing his cheeks now and again, but in the main, sending tee-shot after tee-shot down the fairway and then approach after approach into the green and, when missing, allowing his radically improved short game to do the business.
There were no bogeys on his scorecard and none of the other 79 players who made the cut could claim the same. It was such as deserved victory in every facet and, although he is not a household name, it was far from unexpected on the range. He has warranted his new standing as world number six.
Molinari, always one of the best ball-strikers on the European Tour, has been red-hot since May, when he fended off McIlroy down the stretch at the BMW PGA Championship. In his last two starts, he has won the Quickens Loan National - which Woods himself promotes - and second at the John Deere Classic last Sunday.
Naturally the question will be, "What will this do for Italian golf?" Yet just as importantly in the short term is what this means for Europe.
This ended America's stranglehold of the Majors, ending their proud streak at five, and that will please Thomas Bjorn, the Europe captain, as much as the fact that Molinari has guaranteed himself a berth in September's match in France. Anybody for another Woods-Molinari rematch?
In truth, this duel was contested by multitudes. With overwhelming favourite Spieth double-bogeying the par-five sixth and making a hash of defending his title - the 24-year-old finished with a 76 to come ninth - and fellow overnight leaders Schauffele and Kisner also throwing away shots like confetti in the breeze, so many loomed into contention.
One of these was Eddie Pepperell, the 27-year-old from Oxford, who was so adamant he had no chance going out on one under that he had "too much to drink" on Saturday night. Pepperell shot a 67 for a five-under total and, for a while on this mad, bad afternoon, it looked as if he could commit grand golfing larceny.
Carnoustie had suddenly bared its teeth in menace after three days of flashing its welcoming pearlers. At one stage there were six tied for the lead and these included McIlroy after he eagled the 14th.
Rose, who only made the cut by one, birdied the 18th for an unprecedented fourth time in succession to post the clubhouse lead of six under courtesy of a 69. Yet all the while, Molinari was plodding his inexorable path to glory.
Spieth felt his game was back on track despite blowing a share of a three-shot lead with a birdie-free round of 76.
"I never got down on myself, never got angry," he said. "Man, I just didn't make a putt today. I hit really good putts, too. My stroke is there. It's back, which feels awesome."
Woods was as gracious as ever in defeat and that must have been difficult after his 71 left him on five under and in a tie for sixth. It is his best finish in a Major in six years, but it promised so much more.
Tiger double-bogeyed the 11th, bogeyed the 12th and notwithstanding the late roars of a mini rally with a birdie at 14, he was a long way second best to his playing partner.
Molinari has an English swing coach in Denis Pugh, an English putting coach in Phil Kenyon and an English performance coach in Dave Alred, the former guru of Jonny Wilkinson. They should all bask in Woods's praise: "That was really, really impressive."
"It definitely was his short game," added Woods, himself a three-time Open champion.
"I mean, he chipped it beautifully. I know he made a couple of putts here and there for par, but to get it to where it was basically kick in from some of the spots he put himself, that was impressive. Great touch."
Enough said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)