Francesco Molinari shoots final-round 69 to win British Open at Carnoustie

Francesco Molinari shoots final-round 69 to win British Open at Carnoustie

This one was for Italy. Francesco Molinari, a 35-year-old from Turin, Italy, played the steadiest round of all the contenders in the final round of the 147th British Open, firing a bogey-free 69 to post eight under for the championship and claim his first major title — and his country’s.

Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele tied for second, two shots back. Schauffele was the last player on the course who could’ve caught Molinari over the closing holes, but he shoved a two-iron into the fescue on 17 and failed to get up and down. He signed for 74.

Tiger Woods (71), Eddie Pepperell (67) and Kevin Chappell (73) finished three back. Overnight co-leader Jordan Spieth crashed with a 76 and was one of three players to finish four back.

Molinari earned his first career PGA Tour victory in June at the Quicken Loans National, where he ran away on Sunday for an eight-shot win. In May, he won his fifth career European tour title, the BMW PGA Championship, clipping McIlroy by two.

But Carnoustie trumps them all. He certainly earned it.

Francesco Molinari

Francesco Molinari became the first Italian player to win a major championship.

After three relatively calm days on the venerable old links, on Sunday the wind blew and the leaderboard shuffled and reshuffled as the day went along. Spieth and Schauffele played in the day’s final two-ball, but by the time they made the turn, no less than 12 players had a shot at the jug.

Spieth entered the day in a three-way tie for the lead, and as the defending champion and three-time major-winner, the odds-on favorite. On 6, he tried to hit a low three-wood from a patch of fescue and pushed the shot into a thick gorse bush. He took a drop, made a double, and continued to struggle through the afternoon. Schauffele shot a front-nine 40, one worse than Spieth.

For a moment, as that final pairing stumbled, what was once unthinkable suddenly seemed possible: A Tiger Woods major-championship victory. Woods, in contention for the first time since missing most of 2017 after fusion back surgery, held the outight lead by one as he played the par-4 10th. On that hole he powered a wedge shot high out of a fairway bunker — swinging as hard as he ever did in his prime — that found the front edge of the green. He missed the birdie putt, but it did, for an instant, feel like old times.

But Woods’s return to major glory will have to wait. On 11, he tried to feather a pitch shot out of heavy fescue but came up short and made double bogey. On 12 Woods again drove into the deep stuff, hacked out and made another bogey. He birdied the par-5 14th, and stuck a wedge to 6 feet on 18 but blew the ensuing birdie putt that would have given him a share of second. He signed for 71.

“I made a few mistakes there, drove it in the rough on 11 and 12. The grass grabbed the shaft on both of them,” Woods said afterward. “I figured starting out the day that 9 was probably going to be the number. I figured I’d have to go get that number. Didn’t do it.”

When Woods toppled out of the mix, Rory McIlroy jumped in. Playing several pairings ahead, McIlroy canned an eagle putt on 14 and uncorked the kind of celebration he usually reserves for Ryder Cups. He had caught the leaders. Then Schauffele knocked in a birdie, and there was a six-way tie for the lead. A six-way tie.

Anything could’ve happened from there.

The name to chase hung on the yellow board: Eddie Pepperell, who shot 67 earlier in the day and posted five under. That remained the clubhouse lead deep into the afternoon until Justin Rose stuffed a wedge on 18 and tapped in the putt to get to six under. McIlroy matched him about a half hour later.

Playing alongside Woods, Molinari never blinked. He made a birdie on the par-5 14th to snag the lead at 7 under and held steady though the closing holes.

On 18 he stuck his own wedge shot inside Woods’s ball to set up a five-footer for birdie. He calmly drained the putt and punctuated it with a fist pump reminiscent of Tiger in his prime. For the first time, Molinari’s name was atop the board at a major.

And there it stayed, resulting in two firsts: a major title for Molinari and a major title for Italy.