Woods rolls back the years at Carnoustie, but Molinari claims the claret jug
In a packed leaderboard at The Open, Tiger Woods looked to have rose back to the top of the game, but his playing partner Francesco Molinari slipped under the radar to claim the claret jag with a flawless round. Kris Gourlay reviews the action from Carnoustie.
Tiger Woods’s return to links golf was like watching him 15 years ago. At one point he was the outright leader at Major Championship for the first time in seven years. The whole golfing world was on the edge of their seats, eyes peeled and trembling at the sight of the greatest to ever pick up a club play his way towards a 15th and highly-anticipated Open Championship win at Carnoustie.
Unfortunately for him, the golfing gods were not smiling on the former world number one as two horrible tee shots on the 11th and 12th on his final round saw him go from one clear to 3 behind and a mountain to climb. Of course, Tiger will feel massively disappointed with his final back 9 but he should be proud that he has announced to the entire world that he is back, and by no means past his best, with a record 15th major win in the future certainly not out of the question.
The real Tiger magic came on moving day, Saturday. Woods made a steady but solid start to the 147th Open at after carding two even-par 71 rounds on Thursday and Friday, knowing that he was certainly in contention going into Saturday but needed a much better round, and boy did he do just that. There is no better sight in Golf than a smile and classic fist-pump from the greatest of all time, and the crowds got plenty of those on Saturday.
With almost every drive going straight as an arrow down the fairway, every approach shot coming within 15 foot of the pin and every put sinking into the cup, Tiger meant business. He knew this was his best chance in a decade to win his elusive 15th major, leaving him three off the legendary Jack Nicklaus. He saw the opportunity to silence his doubters and the world, and that the Woods of old was still there deep down and that the years of injuries and controversy only made his hunger to win even greater.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari was there to rain on Tiger’s parade on Sunday as the two were grouped together but Molinari showed no signs of unease despite the circus following his playing partner. Molinari made 14 consecutive pars until a birdie at 15 broke that chain and looked incredibly solid with the putter in hand, going relatively under the radar as everyone was routing for Woods, who let a lapse in concentration on the 11th ruin his progress as a wayward tee shot and poor approach broke his own bogey-free round.
Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffelle all kept the pressure on Molinari and finished -6, two shots adrift in the end as a birdie on the 18th meant that Schauffelle, the only player left on the course who could challenge the Italian, required a near-impossible two on the last.
Tiger’s first birdie of the day came on the 415-yard 4th as a good tee shot with the driver set up a clean break for his approach and left a challenging, but makeable, 15-footer for a 3, and he made no mistake, leaving him just 3 shots behind the co-leaders, Spieth and Schauffelle, who ran into problems on their front 9 with both of them making bogeys on the 5th. This left Tiger just one shot back after making another birdie on the 6th. Woods smelt blood. This was the break he had been praying for all weekend, so he took it with both hands. Woods found bunkers on the 7th and 9th but with two great save shots, he made two pars.
The Carnoustie audience and the wider world believed he could do it from this point. Spieth continued to struggle and eventually Woods found himself on -7 and tied for the lead with Xander Schauffelle. A vintage Woods bunker shot saw him make par on the 10th after starring a bogey in the eye, but then came the torrid 11th and 12th holes, where he went from on top of the world, to wondering what if.
A missed chance of birdie at 13 meant be was still 3 back with 5 left, although one was the eagle-opportunity 15th. Woods does nothing the easy way though, a pitch landed his ball on the green, but it was so far from the flag, he opted to chip it from one side of the green to the other, and even messed that up, leaving a difficult put to make a birdie on a par 5.
After a flawless round, Molinari thoroughly deserved the prestigious Claret Jug as nerves of steel saw him come away with a bogey-free 69 final round as high winds played their part into making the conditions extremely difficult for the players on the final day, but at one stage, everyone was routing for Tiger.
Perhaps Woods had no right to play himself into contention considering in the whole of 2016 and 17 he played in one tournament after taking time out to recover from a career-threatening back injury, where many feared he would never play professional golf ever again. With his tied 6th finish at the Open, Woods goes from would number 649 to now 50th and will have his eye on the top 10 for sure and playing his way into the US Ryder Cup squad later this year.
A memorable weekend and a kickstart to the revival his professional career means Woods has qualified for the Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks, where he will be hoping to get his hands on the trophy he has made his own, winning it a record-eight times in the past but has failed to qualify for the event for the past four years. The whole golfing wold must now wait and hope that last week wasn’t just a fluke and that the real Tiger is back, and gunning for number 15.