Francesco Molinari made his mark at Carnoustie.
Francesco Molinari made his mark at Carnoustie.

‘Unthinkable’: Open star makes history

FRANCESCO Molinari said it would take some time for the achievement of winning the British Open to sink in as he gripped the Claret Jug on Monday (AEST) following his remarkable victory at Carnoustie.

Molinari made history by becoming Italy's first ever major winner and admitted he would probably need to change his flight home so he can celebrate becoming the first player from the country to win a major.

Molinari outshone reigning champion Jordan Spieth, a revived Tiger Woods and the rest of the field as he shot a flawless round of 69 to finish on eight under par around the Scottish links and win the title by two shots.

"I had an easyJet flight at 9am to get back home, so I think that's gone," said the London-based golfer when asked how he intended to celebrate.

"I have a holiday plan for next week somewhere nice with the family. So hopefully, we can still make the holiday and just relax for a few days." When asked to sum up his feelings, he added: "Just disbelief, to be honest. It's amazing to stand here with the Claret Jug.

"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."

After sitting on level-par at the halfway stage, Molinari shot a bogey-free six-under-par round of 65 in the third round to sit just three shots off the lead overnight.

Another clean round on Monday allowed him to make the most of slip-ups from his rivals, including his playing partner Woods.

"To go the weekend bogey free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today."

Molinari, 35, embraced his caddie on the 18th green after finishing his round with a birdie, although at that point he still had to wait for American Xander Schauffele to conclude his round before his victory was confirmed.

 

"I couldn't watch Xander play the last two holes, to be honest. That's why I went to the putting green because I probably would have felt sick watching on TV," he said after following in the footsteps of Spieth, who won last year at Royal Birkdale.

Sweden's Henrik Stenson won across Scotland at Royal Troon in 2016, but before that the last Open champion from continental Europe was the late Seve Ballesteros in 1988.

"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," he added.

"From someone like me coming from Italy, not really a major golfing country, it's been an incredible journey."

Molinari admitted he has avoided playing in the Dunhill Championship here in recent years, such is his dislike of the Carnoustie links, but this win confirms his incredible recent form.

He beat Rory McIlroy to win the PGA Championship at Wentworth in late May and claimed a first PGA Tour win at the Quicken Loans National at the start of this month when Woods finished tied fourth.

That experience, and coming up against Woods in crucial singles matches at the Ryder Cup earlier in his career, helped him cope with the huge throng of supporters and the media circus following them around Carnoustie.

"You know, I've done it before. 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," Molinari said.

"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."

'IT STINGS': TIGER'S LATE FADE

Tiger Woods couldn’t quite produce the miracle he was hoping for.
Tiger Woods couldn’t quite produce the miracle he was hoping for.

Tiger Woods at one moment looked like completing an astonishing fairytale comeback when he led the British Open in the final round but ultimately came up short, posting an even-par 71 to finish five-under for the tournament.

However, the 42-year-old 14-time major winner had his rivals rattled when he grabbed the lead thanks to two birdies on the front nine while they were dropping shots.

The dream, though, ended for Woods on his return after a two-year hiatus to a major he has won three times when he double-bogeyed the 11th and then dropped another shot on the following hole.

Woods, who was watched by his children and got adoring hugs as he left the final green, admitted he was "a little ticked off with himself" but said his close friend and tennis superstar Serena Williams - who lost in the Wimbledon singles final last weekend - would set him right.

"Serena will probably call me and talk to me about it because you've got to put things in perspective," said Woods, who eventually finished tied for sixth, three shots behind playing partner and champion Francesco Molinari.

"She just had a baby and lost the Wimbledon finals. Just keep it in perspective, and the same thing with me. I know that it's going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I'm at now, blessed."

Early in the final round, that old familiar Tiger charge - missing for several years due to personal problems and back issues - seemed to be on the cards as the packed gallery appeared to energise him.

He was pumping his fist and even raised a two-fingered V for victory to the gallery at the fourth as he sank a long birdie putt to move to three off the lead.

He secured another birdie on the par five seventh, holing an uphill putt - this time there was no fist pump, just a determined look in his eyes as he strode off the green.

Woods then found himself in the lead in the middle of his round as the leaders shed shots all over the place but from that tantalising high his game began to falter visiting the sand on three successive holes from the eighth to the tenth.

His run of luck came to an abrupt end at the 11th - as did his lead - finding the rough then hitting a spectator before rolling behind a bush and resulting in a double bogey with him exiting the green grim-faced.

 

The crowd appreciated Tiger’s return to form.
The crowd appreciated Tiger’s return to form.

Further trouble and another dropped shot was to follow at the next and it was with his head bowed deep in thought he strode down the par-three 13th where he managed to stem the haemorrhage with a par.

He got one back on the par-five 14th but Molinari also birdied to take him two shots ahead of the American.

He vented his frustration when distracted by a shout from a spectator in the middle of his swing although the drive itself found the fairway. The spectator was ejected.

Woods quickly set aside his anger and produced a sublime approach shot onto the green - Molinari congratulating him as the passed - taking the applause of the crowd with a wave of his cap.

However, in a reflection of his final nine holes, the birdie putt did not drop while Molinari's did and it was the Italian who pumped his fist and Woods who patted his back in congratulations.

However, his disappointment was quickly counter-balanced by the warmth of the reception from his children.

"I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you're proud of your pops for trying as hard as I did,'" said Woods. "They gave me some - it's pretty emotional because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed.

"I know that they know how much this championship means to me and how much it feels good to be back playing again."

Woods said it was extra special for him as all his two children had witnessed before were his fall from grace both personally - divorcing their mother Elin Nordgren because of serial infidelities - and professionally.

"The only thing they've seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through," said Woods. "Now they just want to go play soccer with me. So that's - man, it's just such a great feeling."

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