Masterful Molinari clinches sublime Open win after Spieth, Woods fall away
Francesco Molinari's safety-first approach paid dividends as the Italian clinched The Open Championship on a dramatic, see-saw final day at Carnoustie.
On a day where prevailing winds made life difficult for the leaders, Molinari's tactical masterclass yielded a 69 that was enough to reach eight under for the tournament and triumph by two strokes.
The manner of Molinari's victory - his scorecard included 16 pars, two birdies and no bogeys - was even more impressive in the face of failed challenges from overnight co-leader Jordan Spieth, playing partner Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Many had tipped Spieth, who led with Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele after 54 holes, to defend the Claret Jug he won in dramatic style at Royal Birkdale 12 months ago, but he failed to recover from a poor front nine.
For a time it looked as though Woods would be the leading contender and finally win a 15th major title after a 10-year drought and he led outright at seven under as the leaders fell back.
But the 14-time major champion, wearing his famous Sunday red, also fell away just after the turn, while McIlroy – who has threatened a score in the mid-to-low 60s all week but always come up short – left it too late for his challenge and finished in a share of second with Schauffele, Justin Rose and Kisner.
And so it was Molinari, who now has three wins in six tournaments, that mastered the winds to add major champion to his growing list of achievements.
Spieth's troubles started with a dropped shot at the fifth that was followed with an ugly double bogey at the next hole, hitting his tee shot into the spectators before finding a bush.
His chances of being named champion golfer two years running were fully extinguished with two more bogeys on the way home.
Woods initially took advantage after playing the front nine two under, but it unravelled for the American great with a double bogey at 11 when he crashed a tee shot into the fans before fluffing a chip up to the green.
Another dropped shot followed at the next hole and Woods was unable to recover.
McIlroy sparked a frantic finish with a monster eagle at the par-five 14th, which briefly led to a six-way tie, but a missed 15-footer for birdie at the last meant he could only tie Rose's then clubhouse lead of six under, a score the Englishman reached with a classy birdie at the 18th.
Molinari, who shot into contention with a sublime 65 on Saturday, dealt superbly with the scrutiny that comes with playing alongside Woods, keeping the ball in play and making his putts resulting in 13 straight pars.
A gain at 14 saw him take the lead outright and a crunching drive down the last followed by an accurate wedge out of the right rough left a putt inside seven feet that he sank to seal victory.