The host course for the 2018 Open Championship was fabled Carnoustie which is renowned as one of the world’s most difficult tests.
Steeped with Open history, Carnoustie was the venue for two of the four most difficult Championships after World War 2 and this was the 7th edition for the venue nicknamed “Car Nasty”. One of those was the infamous “Van De Velde” Open in 1999 when the enigmatic but slightly tragic Frenchman had the biggest last hole meltdown in Major history.
In 1953, legendary Ben Hogan came across the pond to play in the only Open Championship he would ever contest and won the Claret Jug. The 147th edition of the game’s oldest Major would be theater on the grandest scale.
Carnoustie was tame by its standards on the first day as 49 players were at par or better. The leader was American Kevin Kisner whose 5-under par 66 gave him a one shot lead over young South Africans, Erik van Rooyen and Zander Lombard and long-hitting American, Tony Finau. A further shot back were Americans Ryan Moore and Brendan Steele and another South African, Brandon Stone, but with such a tightly bunched field these were very early days.
The weather for the second round was in stark contrast to Thursday as rain and wind made for completely different conditions.
2016 Open Champion, Zach Johnson shot a 4-under 67 to be tied with Kisner for the halfway lead at 6-under. They were one shot ahead of Americans, Pat Perez and Xander Schauffele and England’s Tommy Fleetwood.
A further shot back were van Rooyen, Lombard and Finau, 4-time Major Champion, Rory McIlroy and Matt Kuchar at 4-under. There were 51 players though within 7 shots of the lead setting the stage for a thrilling weekend.
One of those 51 players was Tiger Woods who began Saturday’s round at even par but was 6-under par after his 14th hole and was tied for the lead. Woods bogeyed the 15th hole to finish at 5-under but as remarkable as this may seem, it was the first time in 5 years that he shared the lead in a Major.
Woods was joined at 5-under by Sweden’s Alexander Norén, Fleetwood and Americans Webb Simpson and Kuchar. One shot ahead of that quintet were Italian Francesco Molinari, McIlroy and Johnson. Alone in fourth place was American, Kevin Chappell at 7-under.
The biggest move of the day was made by defending Champion, Jordan Spieth whose masterful 6-under 65 vaulted him to 9-under and a share of the lead entering the final round with Schauffele and Kisner.
The conditions that greeted the field on Sunday put the nasty back in Carnoustie as the players had to contend with winds that gusted up to 25 mph.
As the majority of the contenders battled both par and the elements, one player bettered the front 9; Tiger Woods. The 41-year old in search of his 15th Major played his opening 9 in 2-under to claim the outright lead at 7-under.
A double bogey on the diabolical par-4 12th hole would drop Woods to 5-under and one behind the quartet of leaders; Spieth, Chappell, Molinari and Kisner. When Woods also bogeyed his next hole his recalcitrant run would come to an end, ultimately leaving him in a tie for sixth at 5-under. His play this week however is surely an empathic statement that he is a force to still be reckoned with.
Justin Rose, who finished fourth in the 1999 Open as a 17-year old amateur had barely made the cut at 3-over. The 37-year old Englishman fashioned a brilliant 7-under 64 on Saturday and followed that up with an equally skillful 69 on Sunday to become the early leader in the clubhouse at 6-under.
Moments later, Rose would be joined in the clubhouse by McIlroy at 6-under but they were now a shot behind co-leaders Molinari and Schauffele who were still on the course. When the enigmatic Molinari birdied his final hole he would claim the outright lead at 8-under.
The 35-year old who has always been a consistent money winner on the European Tour where he is a 5-time winner had broken through for his first PGA Tour win earlier this month at the Quicken Loans National.
When Schauffele stumbled with a bogey on the 17th to fall back to 6-under, Molinari became the first Italian player (Constantino Rocca lost a play-off to John Daly in the 1995 Open) to win a Major.
Schauffele finished at 6-under and in a four way tie for second with Rose, McIlroy and Kisner but this was Molinari’s week and a historic victory on storied ground.