David Livingstone looks back on yet another memorable Open finale and celebrates a popular win for Francesco Molinari after Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy generated an amazing atmosphere at Carnoustie.
Since the UK broadcast rights for The Open were awarded to Sky Sports, we have been treated to three final rounds that will live long in the memory. We witnessed an outstanding duel between Stenson and Mickelson at Royal Troon, Spieth’s epic fightback at Royal Birkdale, and this year was simply “The Italian Job”.
The hard and fast conditions at Carnoustie resulted in a number of precision players leading the way over the first three days. The likes of Kevin Kisner and Zach Johnson were plotting their way around nicely, and reigning champion Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele made it a four-way American tie at the top heading into the final round.
But the tournament really came alive on a spectacular Sunday on the Angus coast, and Carnoustie was buzzing with anticipation and excitement when the name of Tiger Woods suddenly appeared as the outright leader midway through the round.
Unfortunately, he took himself out of the running with bad mistakes at 11 and 12, but then Rory McIlroy holed a monster putt for eagle at 14 and he was tied for the lead, building the excitement even further.
And then there was Francesco Molinari, kind of under the radar as you would expect when you’re paired with Tiger, and he was hanging around near the top of the leaderboard, grinding out par after par after par.
When we looked at the leaderboard at the start of the day, the popular opinion seemed to be that Jordan Spieth was the clear favourite to retain his title. Halfway through the round, and it was Tiger who everyone, it seemed, was being urged on to win.
As the drama unfolded, it was compulsive viewing. Here was a man still making his way back into competitive golf after spending the best part of four years being hampered by chronic back problems.
Back in February, I thought he’d do well to make a few cuts here and there and just get through 72 holes without any pain. And yet, here he was, leading The Open at the turn. A huge cheer erupted around the 18th green when fans glanced at the leaderboard just as “T Woods” appeared on his own at the top.
Our studio was positioned not far from the 18th fairway, and the atmosphere was electric. It had a kind of Ryder Cup feel to it, and you could hear some familiar roars echoing around the entire course. There’s only one player in the world that can generate that.
Players like Rory have come close, but there’s nothing quite like the Tiger effect. The presence of Woods on the leaderboard was great for golf. It wasn’t like he was coming up 18 with a chance to post a decent score that was highly likely to be overtaken, he was right in the tournament.
But, as with the first two majors of the year, there was another story developing while the majority of the focus was elsewhere. Not much attention had been paid to Molinari until Woods faltered shortly after the turn, and the little Italian followed 13 straight pars with his first birdie of the day at 14.
You could say it was good for Molinari to be coming in under the radar, although I don’t think it really mattered to him when you look at how he had upped his game from the moment he arrived at Wentworth at the end of May.
He was in the form of his life, and nothing was going to distract him from the business in hand. He looked supremely confident all day, when many players would have been rattled by what Woods was doing alongside him.
Once he got his nose in front, Molinari never really looked like letting his big chance go down the stretch. He completed victory in some style with a birdie on the 72nd hole, and the release of emotions afterwards was something rarely seen from him.
Once he was confirmed as Champion Golfer of the Year, we were able to see the real Francesco Molinari personality. It was a really heartwarming story, and I was delighted for him and his team.
His release of emotion as his name was being engraved on the Claret Jug was a joy to see, and no genuine fan of golf could begrudge Molinari his maiden major title. To win any major is a huge achievement, but to win a major with Tiger and Rory in contention is truly outstanding.
December 30, 2018, 12:00pm