Carnoustie has a habit of producing Open winners against the odds. This time it was he turn of Francesco Molinari, Italy's first major champion

It wasn’t quite the finish that Carnoustie had offered in its previous two years hosting the Open but this Angus links has a habit of throwing up a winner against all the odds – just ask Paul Lawrie and Padraig Harrington. In 2018 it was the turn of Francesco Molinari.

Molinari’s par-laden score of 2-under on the final day was enough to overcome a strong challenging pack that included Rory McIlroy, playing partner Tiger Woods, and defending champion Jordan Spieth to become Italy’s first major champion.

Molinari was fresh off a PGA Tour run that saw him break his duck on the American circuit just three weeks prior. A run that almost cost him the chance of competing at Carnoustie…   

“I was coming into the tournament in very good form. I flew in from the USA on Sunday night and arrived at Carnoustie Monday afternoon. I was knackered because I had played a lot of golf coming into the Open. The journey really killed me. 

“On Monday I walked the course with a putter and a wedge, just trying to stay awake. I was so tired that I was worried I would fall asleep if I went back to the hotel. My main memory of Monday is sleep-walking around the course and not feeling great. 

“The course was very firm, but I like that to be honest. My best Open Championship performance before that was at Muirfield when Phil Mickelson won. Again, that year, the course was really firm and fast.

“Those conditions are probably the best conditions for my game. It is a real test, I shouldn’t say it is fun, but I have a good memory of playing well when it’s firm. 

“People say when there is a lot of rough the people who hit it straight have an advantage, and that is true up to a point, but if the fairways are really tight then everyone is going to hit the rough eventually and then it becomes a lottery. 

“I immediately realised the conditions were perfect for me and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Molinari went into Sunday at 6-under-par, three behind leaders Spieth, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele and one behind Kevin Chappell. Just one shy of the Italian was a pack on 5-under that included McIlroy, Woods, Tommy Fleetwood and Zach Johnson.

“I was excited about the final day and excited about playing with Tiger Woods. It is never easy to go under the radar when you are paired with Tiger. There is always a lot of attention on your group. What I did really well was creating my own bubble. I did my own thing as best as I could. 

“There were lots of changes on the leaderboard, with Tiger starting well and then dropping, and Spieth dropping a few shots. We were all parked together. When it is like that there is not much point paying attention to the leaderboard because it changes so fast. It doesn’t really represent what’s happening.

“At the start of the back nine, Tiger dropped two shots on 11 and another on 12, and I made two great par putts on 12 and 13. I thought, ‘This feels like it is starting to go my way. Let’s focus and not make any silly mistakes.’ The 16th,17th and 18th are always in the back of your mind at Carnoustie. Even early in your round those finishing holes are present in your mind. The good news is that we were playing 16 and 18 downwind, which made them slightly easier.

“On 16 I hit a 5-iron to the back left pin. That is a shot you don’t want to miss left, but I hit a decent shot which trickled to the right side of the green. Hole 17 was the one that was getting my attention but I played it well in the end and got to 18. When I got there I thought of lots of people who haven’t played that hole as well as they would have wanted to. 

“As it was playing downwind I thought I would be aggressive off the tee. Once I had hit a good shot, the trouble was over with, and I had a chance to take advantage of the pin position and make a three.”

“I was obviously nervous over the final putt, but I had been putting well all day. I thought I had the line, and the process in my head was pretty straightforward. I just needed a good pace on it. 

“The putt wasn’t a win or lose situation, with people still out on the course, so my thoughts were, ‘If I make it my chances will improve, but if I miss it’s not over yet.’ 

“When I found out I had won it was brilliant, to know it is over and that you have won, and share the moment with others.”

Francesco Molinari was talking on the Open Podcasts. Listen to the full episode below, on Apple Podcasts, or on the Open website.

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Barry Plummer

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