By Sam McPherson
Italy’s Francesco Molinari won the 2018 Open Championship on Sunday at Carnoustie. What is most impressive is how he did it, though his winning score of 8-under par does not do the effort justice. Molinari emerged from one of the most crowded leaderboards in golf major history to win his first major by two strokes and become the first Italian golfer to win one of the sport’s four grandest prizes.
He earned the $1.89 million winner’s check by posting 69 on Sunday, the only golfer in the field to play a bogey-free round when it mattered most. Molinari parred the first 13 holes before making birdies at No. 14 and No. 18, emerging from a six-way tie at one point atop the leaderboard. He also stared down Tiger Woods, his playing partner, after the duo stood on the 11th tee with Woods, then at 7-under, in sole possession of first place.
Molinari did not blink, as Woods dropped three strokes over the next two holes, and no other challenger mounted a sustained attack on a very difficult day at Carnoustie. Only 14 players broke par in the fourth round, and of those with an actual chance at winning on the back nine Sunday, Molinari’s 69 was the best. Among the leaderboard leaders, only Rory McIlroy, who shot 70 on the par-71 loop to finish in a four-way tie for second at 6-under, managed to break par.
This is the second tournament victory for the 35-year-old Molinari this month, as he won the Quicken Loans National to start July off. In a span of just 21 days, he won Woods’ personal tournament and took the Open Championship from Woods, quite the achievement for a veteran pro who also won the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship in May.
Considering Molinari sat at even par through the first two rounds, though, few could have seen this coming. There were a lot of golfers vying for this year’s British Open title, and most of them were American. Kevin Kisner was the first-round leader, shooting 66 to hold the lead at 5-under. Three players were tied for second just a stroke behind, and three more golfers shot 68 to stay two strokes off the lead. Tied for eighth place at 2-under par were former Open champions Zach Johnson (2015) and McIlroy (2014).
Johnson posted 67 in Friday’s second round to move into a first-place tie with Kisner at 6-under after 36 holes. The trio of Tommy Fleetwood, Pat Perez, and Xander Schauffele stood one shot back, and two shots behind the leaders were Matt Kuchar and McIlroy, part of a five-way tie for sixth place. Again, at this point, Molinari was at even par after opening with a 70-72 effort.
Saturday’s round truly mixed things up atop the leaderboard, as Kisner, Schauffele, and Jordan Spieth — the defending champion — shared the lead at 9-under par. Spieth posted a 65 to jump up 10 spots, while Woods moved up 23 spots after shooting a 66 to lurk four shots off the lead. Molinari posted the second-best round of the day (65) to find himself paired with Woods for Sunday’s fourth and final round.
All of it was just a warm-up for Sunday’s final act, however, and Molinari went home with the Claret Jug by playing the best round of the day at Carnoustie. The three third-round co-leaders shot a combined 11-over on Sunday.
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Next On The Tee: RBC Canadian Open
The U.S. and Great Britain have held championships, and now it’s Canada’s turn: The RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ontario, is up next. This event dates back to 1904, and it is the third-oldest event on Tour after the aforementioned U.S Open and British Open. The defending champion is Jhonattan Vegas, who won the event last year in a playoff over Charley Hoffman after they both posted a 267 score for the tournament. Vegas also won the Canadian Open in 2016, making him a two-time defending champ.
He will attempt to become the first three-peat winner in the event’s history, although others in the field might have some say. Brandt Snedeker (2013), Sean O’Hair (2011), and Chez Reavie (2008) are former champions scheduled to play, as is Jim Furyk, who won the event in back-to-back years himself once (2006, 2007). Kisner will try to make up for his fourth-round struggles in Carnoustie by playing in the RBC Canadian Open, and the world’s top-ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson, is in the field, too, after missing the cut last week.
Two-time defending U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka will tee it off as well, along with fan favorites Sergio Garcia, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson. All these stars will be playing on a course known for being the first the legendary Jack Nicklaus designed all by himself. The loop is highlighted by the five Valley holes, No. 11 through No. 15, which offer impressive beauty and a lot of hazardous possibilities if the ball is hit poorly.
The Glen Abbey Golf Course plays 7,253 yards long and is a par 72.
Favorites: Dustin Johnson, Kevin Kisner, Jhonattan Vegas
Players to Watch: Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.