Carnoustie - It was expected that recent American dominance
of the majors would continue at The Open, but instead Carnoustie
delivered Italy's first ever winner of the Claret Jug in the shape of Francesco
Perhaps it was not the outcome that the huge crowds
thronging the fairways on Sunday were hoping for, especially as Molinari's
playing partner Tiger Woods looked in line at one point to claim his first
major in a decade.
But while Woods faded after dropping three strokes in two
holes at the 11th and 12th, Molinari kept his cool to shoot a second
consecutive bogey-free round.
His 69 left him eight under par, two shots clear of his
nearest challengers including Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy, three ahead of
Woods and four shots ahead of last year's winner Jordan Spieth.
Molinari is a rare golfer from continental Europe to lift
the Claret Jug - Sweden's Henrik Stenson triumphed at Royal Troon in 2016 but
before him you have to go back to Seve Ballesteros in 1988.
The 35-year-old also finally delivered a major win for his
country, going one step further than Costantino Rocca, who famously lost in a
play-off to John Daly at St Andrews in 1995.
And he hopes his victory will have an impact back home in
Italy, where Formula One is usually just about the only sport that competes
with football for the headlines.
"The last round already was big news in Italy.
Obviously, to achieve something like this is on another level," said
Molinari, who started the day six under par, three shots off the lead.
"Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on
TV today, like I was watching Constantino in '95 coming so close. Hopefully,
they will get as inspired as I was at the time, watching him vie for the Claret
Molinari, who lives in London and supports West Ham United,
was not the favourite coming into the week but perhaps he should have been
given his recent form.
He won the PGA Championship at Wentworth in May and recently
claimed his first victory on the PGA Tour at the Quicken Loans National. He was
also the runner-up at last year's US PGA Championship.
Molinari has long since emerged from the shadow of his elder
brother Edoardo, who played at the 2010 Ryder Cup and finished in the top 10 at
the 2014 British Open but has dropped to 397th in the world rankings.
"I would love for him to get back to where he was a few
years ago. Golf is a tough beast," said Francesco.
"He's experienced some bad injuries and two hand
surgeries, but he's come back from this one again already.
"I wish him all the best, and I'm sure this will
motivate him even more to achieve some great things in the game of golf in the
future, and hopefully we'll be competing more together again very soon."
Contributing to Molinari's success has been a performance
coach called Dave Alred, who used to work as a kicking coach for England rugby
star Jonny Wilkinson.
The improvement in his game is a huge boost for Europe as
they aim to reclaim the Ryder Cup from the United States at Le Golf National
near Paris in late September.
Molinari has been there before - he and his brother played
in the European team that won at Celtic Manor in 2010, while Francesco's half
with Woods gave Europe victory at Medinah in 2012.
"There's going to be a lot of European guys vying for
his partnership in the foursomes at the Ryder Cup, that's for sure," said
Meanwhile, the Americans will be particularly wary of the
Italian after his outstanding performance in Carnoustie.
"He's been playing unbelievable golf. He's been working
his butt off. I see him in the gym all the time, going through his routine,
grinding on the range, doing his own stuff," said Spieth.
"It truly is hard work that paid off for Francesco. I'm
certainly happy for him."