Red-hot Molinari a deserved champion as Woods, Spieth and McIlroy move in right direction: British Open talking points

John McAuley looks at the big takeaways from Carnoustie, where Molinari clinched the Claret Jug

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND - JULY 22:  Francesco Molinari of Italy celebrates with the Claret Jug after winning the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 22, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Magnificent Molinari golf’s hottest player 

Justin Thomas took to Twitter to confirm it. The world No 2 played alongside Francesco Molinari on Thursday and Friday, missed the cut then watched on television as the Italian displayed both grace and grit in capturing the Claret Jug.

“Not surprised!” Thomas tweeted. “Guy is the hottest player on the planet currently.” And that he is. Molinari’s past six worldwide finishes read: win, 2, T25, win, T2, win.

That includes the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and now its marquee tournament. Players go on hot streaks, but Molinari is doing it through the meat of the season, on both sides of the Atlantic.

To go bogey-free on Sunday at that Carnoustie, with that Tiger Woods and all it entails, makes the feat even more impressive. It is testament to perseverance and purpose. At 35, metronome Molinari has refined his short game. He has worked incredibly hard to get to this point. He deserves all the accolades.


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Tiger missing final piece of jigsaw

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND - JULY 22:  Tiger Woods of the United States acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green during the final round of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 22, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Former world No 1 Tiger Woods rolled back the years to contend for the British Open title this year. Getty Images

Asked if, having seized the Open lead late on Sunday, if it felt like old times, Woods smiled wide and responded: “Oh yeah. It did. It didn’t feel any different.”

Some of it didn’t look any different either: the 3-wood on the par-5 6th, the escape from the bunker on 10. For the first time since the 2011 Masters, Woods sat on top of the leaderboard on a major Sunday.

Yet from there, he couldn’t close. He dropped three shots at two holes, eventually settling for tied-6th. Through 10, Woods showed why he remains golf’s lightening rod.

From there, though, he offered evidence of what is still lacking. The technique is there, but the once-titanium temperament is yet to return. Of course, some perspective is required: last October, Woods said he wasn’t sure he could play pro golf again.

For a guy who apparently could barely walk last year following a fourth back surgery, the steps forward have been incredible.

Disappointment, yes, but Spieth suggests surge is close

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND - JULY 22:  Jordan Spieth of the United States hits an approach shot from the rough during the final round of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 22, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Jordan Spieth led the British Open heading into the final round before carding a 76 on Sunday. Stuart Franklin / Getty Images

Perhaps the greatest surprise of the final round was that Jordan Spieth wasn’t standing where Molinari was when the Claret Jug was handed over.

The American began Sunday in a three-way tie for the lead, but as defending champion and the game’s anointed “Golden Child”, many expected a second successive Open success – and fourth (fourth!) major days before his 25th birthday.

But bad decision-making on the 6th cost Spieth and he couldn’t muster a charge. His 76 was his worst final round at a major. For the first time in 84 major loops, he did not card a single birdie.

Putting like vintage (24-year-old) Spieth for the first three rounds, on Sunday his touch deserted him. It has been a problem this past year.

Yet, according to Spieth, it’s returning. “My stroke is there, it’s back,” he said. “And it’s awesome. It’s all there. I believe my best golf is yet to come.” Which, considering what has come before, sounds pretty ominous.

Evidence McIlroy's just warming up too

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND - JULY 22:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts to a par putt on the 16th green during the final round of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 22, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy was in solid form at the British Open. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

An eagle from range on 14 prompted a pirouette and pounce upon the five-way tie at the top. Suddenly, Rory McIlroy was right in contention, the snap of a four-year major drought instantaneously becoming a real possibility.

Until that point, he seemed destined to disappoint. Needing a fast start on Sunday, McIlroy bogeyed two of the first five holes. His wedges were off, his putting costly. But he rebounded for a first runner-up finish at a major.

Overall, his week was consistent as the 69-69-70-70 implies. It bodes well for the remainder of the season. Traditionally, McIlroy gets hot around this time of year, and with the PGA Championship to come and the Money Lists on both sides of the Atlantic beginning to figure large, he appears well set for another run.

Admittedly, his short-game needs tightened. But, crucially, McIlroy didn’t let a capricious Carnoustie rattle him. He seems in a poised place. From there, his best golf should be just around the corner.

Course set-up shows USGA way forward… again

Zander Lombard of South Africa walks along the 18th fairway during the third round of the British Open Golf Championship in Carnoustie, Scotland, Saturday July 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
Carnoustie's setup proved a big success for the British Open. Peter Morrison / AP Photo

What a thrill the final day was. What a week at Carnoustie in all. For that, the Open’s organisers, the R&A, must take a huge amount of credit.

They determined not to trick up the course, deciding instead to leave alone the Scottish links to itself present a formidable-but-fair test. Molinari won at 8-under par.

At one point on Sunday, six players shared the lead. It felt like golf at its most pure, the game how it was meant to be played. Great shots were rewarded, poor shots penalised. Bad bounces were, for the most part, accepted.

Compare that to last month’s US Open. Shinnecock Hills was a disaster - on Saturday, average scoring swelled to 75.3 - when the USGA’s propensity and pride in tendering golf’s toughest test was shown once more to be folly. It’s an annual occurrence. Hopefully - and maybe best not to hold breath - they finally took note.