CARNOUSTIE, Scotland, (Reuters) – Francesco Molinari kept the coolest head in Carnoustie as he steered a steady course through a wild afternoon of nailbiting tension at the British Open yesterday to become the first Italian major champion.
With a strong breeze causing mayhem at the top of the leaderboard which a charging Tiger Woods had topped with nine holes to play, the 35-year-old Molinari buckled down to produce a flawless 69 and claim victory by two strokes.
Overnight leaders Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner ended two shots back in four-way tie for second place with England’s Justin Rose and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.
Molinari ended a compelling four-day drama on eight-under 276 — the lowest combined score in the eight Carnoustie Opens.
Huge crowds descended on the seaside links and the majority were willing Woods to claim a fairytale 15th major a decade after his last one. But it was the American’s playing partner Molinari who wrote his own script to claim his major breakthrough at the 36th time of asking.
With defending champion Jordan Spieth, Woods, English duo Rose and Tommy Fleetwood and McIlroy in the mix yesterday, the Molinari sub-plot was almost overlooked as the leading groups went out.
Yet his recent form, two wins and two runners-up finishes in his last five tournaments, should have served as a warning on a day when a steady hand was needed on the tiller.
While Spieth, Schauffele and Kisner endured a rollercoaster ride across the sun-blasted links, as if spooked by the presence of a resurgent Woods, Molinari cranked out 13 consecutive pars before making his move.
He rolled in a birdie on the par-five 14th to move into the lead on seven-under.
With Rose and McIlroy in the clubhouse on six-under, Schauffele fought back from a 40-stroke outward nine to get to seven-under but Molinari was unflappable.
Carnoustie’s 18th hole has witnessed its fair share of horror shows but Molinari safely negotiated the snaking Barry Burn with his tee shot before planting his second to six feet.
Molinari was a picture of calm as he walked up to his putt and only after it disappeared into the cup did he allow his mask to slip — turning to punch the air.