Francesco Molinari works magic to win the Open on thrilling final day

The Guardian-2 years before

Francesco Molinari has the hardly insignificant consolation of the Claret Jug as a household accessory, given he may now be portrayed as the man who killed Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy in a single gory act. Stewart Cink, who triggered sighs when ending Tom Watson’s epic Open quest in 2009, is unburdened now.

Francesco Molinari For so long on...Sunday afternoon one of the most extraordinary stories in golf was playing out. Tiger Woods, amid his latest comeback from personal and professional trauma, led the Open. Suddenly it was oh so real.

Tiger Woods That the 42-year-old could not complete the claiming of a 15th major, a decade after number 14, owed more to Woods hitting the self-destruct button than the landing of body blows by the understated Molinari but there was still despondency in the Carnoustie air. There was not even the marquee backup option of success for Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth to soften the blow. Look what you could have won.

Rory McIlroy None of this, of course, should take away from Molinari’s latest and biggest triumph. His accuracy under the most extreme of pressures was robot-like. The fact he played in the company of Woods when hitting a bogey-free 69 should only heighten appreciation of the 35-year-old’s achievement. Molinari’s home city of Turin is typically famous for cars. Italy has a well‑versed passion for football. Another sport has delivered a new national hero; it can only be hoped this is properly recognised.

It was odd, in a way, that Molinari’s eight‑under‑par success came by the relatively comfortable margin of two shots. This had been a tense final day played in whipping winds, distinctive early on for how many players had the top of the leaderboard within view. McIlroy, Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner shared second.

Rose’s weekend showing – he signed off with a 69 – was terrific. He had knocked in a lengthy birdie putt on the 36th hole to survive the cut by one. Two days later he stood with wedge in hand in what bore endearing similarity to his Open debut 20 years ago. Rose holed his approach shot at Birkdale; here, he played the iron to tap-in range. “It brought back memories for sure,” Rose admitted. “I was thinking, ‘Can I do it again?’ I very nearly did.”

Drama attached to Woods had started with his birdie at the 6th. Moments later Schauffele and Spieth dropped shots; Woods was within one of the lead. At 25 minutes to five Woods was the solo leader. He later played one of the shots of the tournament, from a hazardous fairway bunker on the 10th to within 20ft of the hole.

The 11th was to prove Woods’s Carnoustie nemesis. Missing the green to the left should not have been a disaster but his attempted flop shot could not reach the putting surface. The double bogey left eight players within a shot of the lead. Woods played the closing stretch in level, his 71 and five-under aggregate enough only for a tie for sixth with Kevin Chappell and Eddie Pepperell, who revealed he had started day four with a hangover. Pepperell duly produced a 65.

A year ago it was doubtful whether Woods would play competitive golf again. A decade ago he would never have failed to press home the advantage he earned here. “I’m a little ticked off at myself,” he conceded before leaving Scotland.

McIlroy’s Sunday was in neutral before the kind of special moment that so often separates him from the rest. The Northern Irishman converted a 70ft eagle putt at the 14th, which suddenly catapulted him into a six-way tie for the lead. With an hour to play the championship was wonderfully hard to call.

McIlroy does not really have cause to rue a birdie chance at the last which slid agonisingly past, given Molinari finished two ahead of him anyway. McIlroy belied a few myths during the week relating to his supposed inability to contest at firm venues, windy venues or when the rain batters down. McIlroy was happy to turn immediate attention to praise of Molinari. “He is a fantastic golfer and a great guy,” the 2014 champion said.

Spieth, who started day four in a share of the lead, was derailed by a double bogey at the par‑five 6th. The Texan had to take a drop after landing his second shot in a bush. The defending champion did not collect another shot thereafter, with a bogey at the 15th all but ending his hopes of retaining the Claret Jug. Spieth’s 76 – the highest score of any player in the last eight Sunday groups – slid him back to tied ninth. Spieth was clearly irked at being warned for slow play by tournament officials, midway through his last round. “I think I played the fastest golf I’ve probably ever played while contending in a tournament,” he said.

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