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Posted July 23, 2018 in "Watts" In The Bag by Trevor Cigich
Article by Ron Green Jr. of Global Golf Post
He had just birdied the dastardly par-4 18th hole at Carnoustie late Sunday afternoon and the Claret Jug was waiting for Molinari once Xander Schauffele, his lone remaining challenger, was finished behind him.
Molinari (above) sat on a couch and fidgeted. His moment had arrived but he still had to wait on it to become official so he went to the practice green to work off his nervousness.
When it was done, when Molinari’s name was etched into the silver Claret Jug along with those of Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and others, the reality was still too big to fully grasp.
“I knew I was coming in with some good golf. 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.
“To go the weekend bogey-free, it’s unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today.”
The 35-year-old Italian entered the championship as a six-time winner on the European Tour but his only previous PGA Tour victory came earlier this month when he won the Quicken Loans National, a tournament presented by Woods, who happened to be Molinari’s playing partner Sunday.
While Molinari was busy making pars – he parred the first 13 holes of the final round – Woods played his way into the lead in the early back nine. No sooner had Woods gained the lead than he relinquished it with a double bogey at the 11th and a bogey at the 12th.
Woods wasn’t alone in his stumbles. Every player but Molinari could point to something Sunday that doomed their chances.
Molinari only had to point to the series of brilliant par saves he made and the two birdies, including a 5-footer at the last hole, to explain why he could cradle the Claret Jug. He also won the BMW Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, earlier this year.
“Just (for Molinari) to go today’s round without a bogey is unreal,” said Jordan Spieth, the third-round co-leader who shot 76 in the final round. “Today was pretty ridiculous. He’s been playing unbelievable golf. He’s been working his butt off. It truly is hard work that paid off for Francesco.”
It was a captivating final round with characters rushing up and down the leaderboard. For a time, it seemed that Eddie Pepperell’s 5-under-par total – posted before the final groups had made the turn – might be good enough. The field was in full retreat.
Instead, it was a near miss for Pepperell and the late-charging Justin Rose, who made a birdie putt on his 36th hole Friday just to make the cut after weekend rounds of 64-69 came within two strokes of a playoff.
The most surprising failure on Sunday?
Probably Spieth, who couldn’t put his game back together once it came unraveled midway through the first nine holes Sunday. A bogey at the fifth wobbled him but it was a double bogey at the par-5 sixth, where he hit his second shot into the gorse that undid him. Spieth didn’t make a birdie in the final round and faded into the scenery during the final hour.
Kevin Chappell kept holing putts to stay close until he buried a ball in a bush at the 17th. Kevin Kisner, another 54-hole co-leader, was undone by playing the second and third holes 3-over par, forcing him to play from behind throughout the windy afternoon.
Ultimately, Schauffele, the third of the overnight leaders, was the last player with a chance to beat Molinari. He started the final round at 9-under par and made the turn at 5 under after shooting 40 on the first nine. Going to the 17th tee, Schauffele had a share of the lead again but a poor approach shot led to a critical bogey.
“It’s just going to go in the memory bank as a positive,” said Schauffele, who has three top-six finishes in six career major championship starts.
“I had a chance to win a major championship. I was in the final group. I had to face a little bit of adversity early in the round, and I still gave myself a chance. So I can look at it – anyone can look at it however they want to, but I’m going to look at it as a positive moving forward, and try to learn how to handle the situation a little better next time.”
The conditions made it a different Open Championship from the outset. Scotland’s warm, dry summer gave Carnoustie’s lumpy fairways a baked brown tone and a firmness that was extreme even by links standards.
The premium on tee shots, always a priority at Carnoustie given the severity of the fairway bunkers, was heightened by the sometimes extraordinary amount of run created by the firmness. Iron shots were running more than 50 yards and drivers could roll out 100 yards in places.
It created a diversity of strategies among players and seemed to minimize the power player’s advantage. Some, like Brooks Koepka, chose to rely on their driver, deciding the rough was thin enough that the likely penalty for a missed fairway would not be too costly.
Others picked their spots, hitting irons and hybrids with drivers dropped in at particular places. No one did it better than Spieth on Saturday when he changed his plan walking to the first tee and decided to rip a driver, running it onto the front edge of the putting surface, setting up an opening eagle that propelled him to a third-round 65.
Molinari has never had much affection for Carnoustie, which is tough to love given its rugged nature. In fact, he’s passed at times on playing the European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall because the rotation includes Carnoustie.
Now he’s linked to the place where Hogan, Gary Player, and Tom Watson, among others, won the Open Championship.
“I got beat up around here a few times already in the past. I didn’t particularly enjoy that feeling,” Molinari said.
“It’s a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There’s no way around it. You can’t really hide.”
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (8.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei White 60X
3 Wood: TaylorMade M3 (13 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila XTorsion Green 70X
Driving Iron: TaylorMade P-790 UDI
Putter: Bettinardi Dass BB-0
Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Grips: Lamkin TS1
Republished with permission from Global Golf Post