CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Raise a glass of Chianti. The “Champion Golfer of the Year,” as they call the British Open winner, is a 35-year-old from Turin, Italy, who proved Sunday that consistency remains a powerful force.
On a day of warm temperatures, brisk breezes and ultimately history, Francesco Molinari won the 147th British Open, the first Italian to take any of golf’s four major championships. He did it by making 13 straight pars while the other leaders, including defending champion Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, were making bogeys and double bogeys. Molinari then added birdies at 14 and 18.
Molinari shot a 2-under-par 69 at a Carnoustie links that seemed docile but at times showed its true feistiness. He shot an 8-under total of 276, winning by two shots after starting the round trailing by three.
Justin Rose, who made the cut Friday by holing a 14-foot putt on 18, shot 69 and was among the four runners-up at 278. Joining him were Rory McIlroy (70), Kisner (74) and Schauffele (74). Woods, who was briefly alone in front at the 10th, came in at 279 after a 71. Spieth, apparently in control, blew to a 76 and a tie for ninth at 280.
But the story was Molinari, who has been on a roll. Three weeks ago, he won the Quicken Loans Invitational near Washington, then recrossed the Atlantic to take the world’s oldest tournament, the British.
“What a round,” Justin Thomas tweeted about Molinari. “Played with him Thursday-Friday. Not surprised! Guy is the hottest player on the planet currently. Bogey free out there today is a championship.”
The only other native Italian to come close to winning a major was Costantino Rocca. He holed a 65-foot putt from off the 18th green to force a playoff in the 1995 Open at St. Andrews. John Daly won the playoff. Later that year, Rocca was on the winning European Ryder Cup team at Oak Hill in Rochester and was by far the most successful Italian player until Molinari came along.
Molinari’s round was reminiscent of the 1987 British at Muirfield, when Nick Faldo won by parring all 18 holes Sunday.
“It’s amazing to stand here with the Claret Jug,” Molinari said of the Open trophy. “I knew I was coming with some good golf. But my record around here was terrible, so that didn’t make make me too optimistic.”
But optimistic or pessimistic, Molinari was resolute. He has been a Ryder Cup team member and can handle himself well in big events, having tied for second behind Thomas in last year’s PGA. Molinari knocked balls on greens, and when he missed them, he knocked in putts to save pars.
Spieth, trying to become the first back-to-back Open winner since Padraig Harrington in 2007 and 2008, faded. “I’ve already gone through the frustration,” he said. “I’m kind of in acceptance now. Man, I just didn’t make a putt today.”
Woods made a few putts but missed an iron shot that led to a double bogey on 11. He praised his playing partner, Molinari.
“Francesco really played solidly,” Woods said. “He hit a couple of off shots, but it was his short game. Great touch. He was working the ball around the greens, and that was cool to see.”
With three holes to play, Molinari and Schauffele were both at 7 under. Then Molinari birdied 18, the hole that has ruined the rounds of so many, and shortly after, behind him Schauffele bogeyed 17.
“I looked up at 17, and saw he got to minus eight,” Schauffele said, “which is just incredible golf.”
In a way, the whole Open was incredible.
“It was great to be a part of it,” McIlroy said, “to hear the roars, Tiger being back in the mix. I thought Tiger was going to win.”
But Francesco Molinari did.
With Jeff Williams