Much of the focus throughout the Open was focused on other players with bigger names (including plenty of focus on the biggest name in the history of golf), but that meant we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about Francesco Molinari, perhaps the hottest player in the world right now.
Molinari won the BMW PGA and finished second at the Italian Open in Europe before posting a respectable T25 at the U.S. Open. He followed that up with a win at the Quicken Loans National and a second place finish at the John Deere before heading over to Carnoustie and doing what he’s done for a while now: keep it in play and make a ton of putts. That’s how he rose to #15 in the world (he’s going to be a top-ten player at least when this week’s ranking comes out), and it’s how he won this week, becoming the first Italian player to ever capture the Claret Jug.
His play on the 18th was instructive. While much of the focus was on whether Tiger could make a birdie and keep his slim tournament hopes alive, Molinari was already in possession of the lead; any scenario in which Tiger had a shot meant Molinari would have to make a bogey.
Instead Molinari outdrove Woods (though he didn’t have an idiot yelling during his swing), and then after Tiger had hit it close to theoretically apply a tiny bit of pressure, Molinari did this in response:
And then, after Tiger had missed his short putt, Molinari stepped up for a putt that would give him a late solo lead at the Open, and given the difficulty of Carnoustie’s closing stretch, almost guarantee a playoff at worst. If he felt that weight, it didn’t show:
With that putt, Molinari moved to -8. That lead proved insurmountable; young American Xander Schauffele had the best shot, but his hopes were thwarted by a combination of an errant shot on 17 and a baby that was somehow right in front and had no interest in being quiet while Xander attempted to play a crucial recovery shot:
That led to a bogey, and it pretty much ensured the championship for Molinari, who was fully deserving after a bogey-free weekend of 65/69. It was an excellent performance and a just reward for a player who has been around the top of the game for a very long time (he played on the 2010 Ryder Cup team) and since 2009 hasn’t slipped below 66th in the world at the end of any year.
But this is a new version of Molinari, and it’s a testament to how golf, more than any other sport, does allow for late-career reinventions. It’s less common now in the age of explosive young athletes and an incredibly deep pool of talent, and tinkering can just as easily lead to a player tumbling in the other direction. But stories like Molinari’s are why players continue to try and improve throughout their careers. You never know when it can click.
Some Other Thoughts
Jordan Spieth might kick himself over this one. In a performance that mirrored his 2017 Masters in some ways, Spieth surged to the top of the leaderboard with a sterling 65 on Saturday only to lose steam on Sunday. Today that translated to a five-over round of 76, and he finished four shots back of Molinari. That’s tough, and maybe it was a missed opportunity, but it’s still difficult to walk away from this week with any thought other than than “Spieth is always going to play well in majors.” That’s not a bad rep to have.
EAGLE at 14 for @McIlroyRory. From nowhere he is back in a share of the lead.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 22, 2018
A player that lately hasn’t had that rep: Rory McIlroy, who did his best to dispel that with a fun back-nine run today. Over his final ten holes Rory made two birdies and an eagle against one bogey, a run that was predicted by Justin Thomas:
What a back nine this is going to be! Watch out for a back nine charge from Rors
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) July 22, 2018
The Ryder Cup looks like it’s going to be awesome. Along with a resurgent Molinari, Justin Rose, Rory, and Tommy Fleetwood all had solid weeks, while 10 of the top 16 finishers were American. That’s typical for the Ryder Cup; American depth against the top-level talent of Europe. It is getting harder and harder to imagine Tiger Woods not making the team, though, which will add a whole new dimension to the event.
One player unlikely to make the European squad: Eddie Pepperell, the 72nd ranked player in the world. The Englishman is a fantastic Twitter follow but an unknown to a lot of American fans as he tends not to play any PGA Tour events. That’s a shame, because we’re missing out on a real character. Pepperell shot 67 today to jump into the top-ten, and best of all, he did it while fighting a hangover:
Great hair + great preparation = great performance @PepperellEddie.
Bit like myself.
— Mark Roe's Hair (@markroeshair) July 22, 2018
What an Open. When the schedule changes next year, the Open will be the last major of the year, and that’s how it should be; the PGA Championship is just a few weeks away and it’s tough to get excited about it. The Open is the biggest event in golf. That it’s also the best one is a fantastic bonus.