At 4.28 on Saturday afternoon, Tiger Woods had an 18-foot putt to move to seven under par and take the outright lead in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie. Who would have thought nine months ago, when he was sentenced to do community service for reckless driving, that a sentence such as that might be written? Woods missed the putt by a quarter of an inch to the right and then finished 4-4-4 against a par of 3-4-4. He was the leader in the clubhouse on 208, five under par. Everyone knows that Tiger had won 14 major championships, although none for ten years before this Open, and many are aware that in all of those he had held the 54-hole lead. It seemed a slim chance that he’d hold it this time, given that he had teed off two hours and 45 minutes before the final pairing went off, and so it proved. He ended the day four shots off the pace. Surely this was not going to be major No. 15?
A 4.28 on Sunday afternoon, Tiger Woods rolled in a five-foot putt for par on the 9th which, given the carnage going on behind him as Xander Schauffele played the 7th, would give him the outright lead in the Open on seven under par. He was possibly on his way to victory. And indeed he was in the pairing from which the champion came. But that wasn’t Woods. Instead, it was 35-year-old Francesco Molinari, the first Italian golfer to win a major championship.
“I’ve played with Tiger before, in Ryder Cups and big occasions,” said the man from Turin. “I knew what was coming and I was ready for it. I was calm – you know, as calm as you can be playing in the final round of a major, close to the lead, playing with Tiger.”
Tiger’s own calmness went out of the window on the 11th, where he hit a horrible tee shot into the right rough with an iron and hoiked his second shot left into the crowd, from where he was fortunate to get a ricochet towards the green. He then took four more to get down. Double-bogey. He also bogeyed the 12th. He did birdie the par-five 14th, but that was the hole on which Molinari, who had been sailing along with Faldo-esque serenity, ended a run of 13 consecutive pars by making a birdie. At seven under par, he had the lead alone until Schauffele joined him with a birdie of his own on the 14th.
Justin Rose had by then finished on six under, a mark Rory McIlroy was to match (after a week in which his putting was dodgy and his wedge play mediocre). After pars on 15 and 16 Molinari did likewise on the 17th after a magnificent 2-iron through the wind. A ripping drive at the last left him a wedge home, which he hit to five feet. The putt was never anywhere but the centre of the cup. He was home at eight under. When Schauffele bogeyed the 17th, it was as good as over. He finished on six under, level with Rose, McIlroy and Kevin Kisner and one ahead of Woods. A shot further back was the defending champion, Jordan Spieth, who was in a three-way tie for the lead going into Sunday and it was an utter shock that he shot a birdie-free 76.
“I couldn’t watch Xander play the last two holes, to be honest,” said Molinari. “That’s why I went to the putting green. I probably would have felt sick watching on TV.” Sick is likely how Woods felt; in his prime this one would never have slipped away. “I’m a little ticked off with myself,” he acknowledged.
Molinari had got the better of Woods on the final hole of the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, which meant their match was halved and Europe won the Ryder Cup rather than tied it. The 2022 Ryder Cup will be staged in Rome, and the word is that Tiger will be the US captain. You can bet Frankie would like to be on that team, too.
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