For the first time, the Champion Golfer of the Year is Italian.
Francesco Molinari hung tough on a wild Sunday at windy, difficult Carnoustie, opening the round with 13 straight pars and then birdieing 14 and 18 to fire a flawless 2-under 69. That gave him an 8-under total and a two-shot victory, making him the first Italian player to win any major.
This is Molinari’s first major title.
What a gutsy performance, as everyone else around him seemed to either vacillate between birdies and bogeys (and worse) or drop off all together. Molinari got into contention with a Saturday 65 (he entered the final round three back) and then bought it home Sunday.
Molinari played his final 37 holes without a bogey.
The Italian may’ve been smooth, but he had to battle through on an incredibly hectic and electric Sunday.
Tiger Woods brought the energy to a fever pitch first in the final round, playing a flawless opening 10 holes (two birdies and eight pars in high winds that sent the leaders tumbling) to rocket from four back to the solo lead. It sent golf fans into a frenzy as the dreams of a 15th major flashed before their eyes.
As Woods was taking the lead, 54-hole co-leader Jordan Spieth was still in contention. When Woods faltered with a double bogey-bogey stretch at Nos. 11-12, a six-way tie for the lead emerged at 6 under.
That logjam included Spieth, Molinari and Rory McIlroy after the Northern Irishman drained a 55-foot eagle putt.
As it appeared we were heading toward a frenzied finish, Molinari stayed calm.
After opening with 13 straight pars, he first took the outright lead Sunday with a birdie at 14 to move to 7 under. Xander Schauffele would reach 7 under later, but Molinari then snatched back the outright lead when he stuffed his approach to 4 feet at 18 and made the birdie putt.
Schauffele then bogeyed the 17th to fall two behind and couldn’t hole out for eagle at the last to force a playoff. With that, Molinari was the champion.
(Spieth, meanwhile, fell apart late and McIlroy couldn’t press any further forward after his eagle.)
This continues an incredible few months for Molinari. He won the BMW PGA Championship in May and then earned his first PGA Tour title last month with an eight-shot domination at the Quicken Loans National, a Woods-hosted event.
Molinari, 35, followed with a T-2 at the John Deere Classic. He also finished second at the Italian Open in June. His recent results now go 1-T2-1-T25-2-1.
Weeks after winning Woods’ event, Molinari won the Open while playing with Woods on Sunday.
Schauffele was among four sharing runner-up honors. The 54-hole co-leader fired a 3-over 74 to finish T-2 at 6 under. The same went for Kevin Kisner. Justin Rose, who birdied 18 on Friday just to make the cut on the number, goes 64-69 on the weekend.
He was the clubhouse leader when he posted at 6 under, but settled for a T-2. He birdied 18 all four days.
McIlroy closed in 70 to tie Rose in the clubhouse but eventually get eliminated from victory after Molinari posted. The Northern Irishman settled for T-2.
Eddie Pepperell fired the day’s best round, a 4-under 67, to rocket 30 spots to T-6 at 5 under.
Spieth, the third 54-hole co-leader, stumbled on Sunday. The defending champion fired a 76 to drop to a tie for ninth at 4 under.
With all those big names swirling around, it was Molinari who remained firm.
The Champion Golfer of the Year did come out of Woods’ Sunday group. But it was Molinari who came out on top.
What a performance.