Ice-cold Molinari repels a slew of challengers at Carnoustie
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) — Rory McIlory spun around and let out a roar after making a 35-foot eagle putt. Justin Rose clenched his fist after taming the 18th hole for a fourth straight day. Xander Schauffele kept his composure amid the chaos of an ever-changing leaderboard.
Kevin Kisner? He stuck around like he has done all week.
In a wild finish to the British Open, what all four ended up needing was a mistake or two from Francesco Molinari down one of the toughest closing stretches in golf.
It didn’t happen.
McIlroy, Rose, Schauffele and Kisner finished in a tie for second place as the world’s oldest major championship avoided a fourth straight playoff at Carnoustie to determine the Champion Golfer of the Year.
Ultimately, Molinari’s technique held up amid the fiercest pressure. He enjoyed a two-shot victory Sunday, with a 6-foot birdie at the last hole earning him separation from the pack chasing him.
“One guy out of 156 is going to win,” McIlroy said, “and 155 other guys are going to leave a little disappointed.”
There were contrasting emotions for the four guys who finished closest to Molinari.
For Rose, there was pride at getting so near after needing a birdie on No. 18 on Friday to even make it to the weekend. He followed up a 64 on Saturday — the lowest round of the week — with a 69 on Sunday to post the first realistic clubhouse target at 6 under par.
“I hadn’t felt the energy of the crowd for a while in the Open,” said Rose, who had his best finish at his home major. “That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of the Open for me.”
Rose birdied the fearsome 18th hole in all four rounds, one of the more impressive feats of the week.
For McIlroy, the only regret was that he started his charge too late. He bogeyed two of his first five holes to leave him six shots off the lead, only for the long eagle putt at No. 14, which elicited one of the most striking celebrations of the tournament, to put him in a five-way share of the lead about 1½ hours later.
He parred his way home for a 70, any realistic hope of winning the British Open for the second time disappearing when he pushed his wedge into 18 and failed to make the birdie putt.
“I didn’t get off to a great start, but I hung in there and I battled back,” McIlroy said. “Just sort of ran out of holes at the end.”
McIlroy remained without a major victory since winning his fourth at the PGA Championship in 2014.
With Jordan Spieth failing to make a birdie all round, the best chance of the United States having a sixth straight major champion fell to the two players with whom he shared the third-round lead — Schauffele and Kisner.
Schauffele was playing in the final pairing at a major for the first time.
“Chaotic is probably the best way to put it,” he said with a smile.
The 24-year-old from California kept playing with a smile on his face despite finding himself, as he described it, “in the strangest spots possible on the golf course” with playing partner Spieth.
Schauffele made bogies on Nos. 5 and 6, then double bogey on No. 7 after leaving one shot in the wispy grass and sending his next over the green.
Another dropped shot at the 17th meant he needed to hole his approach to No. 18 for eagle to force a playoff, but it settled about 12 feet short. Molinari, sitting on a sofa and watching TV in what looked like a scoring trailer, could finally celebrate.
“It’s just going to go in the memory bank as a positive,” said Schauffele, who was playing only his second British Open. “I had a chance to win a major championship. I was in the final group. I had to face a little bit of adversity early in the round, and I still gave myself a chance.
“Anyone can look at it however they want to, but I’m going to look at it as a positive moving forward, and try to learn how to handle the situations a little better next time.”
And then there was Kisner, looking to go wire-to-wire. A double-bogey 6 after finding a bunker off the tee at the second hole was followed by a bogey at the next as Kisner struggled to deal with an early stiff wind.
His birdie at No. 10 got him back in a tie for the lead, but he was another victim of the 12th — the hardest hole of the week — and he never caught up with Molinari.
Tiger Woods briefly had the lead outright midway through his round. Kevin Chappell had a putt to tie the lead with Molinari at No. 16 before making double bogey on the next.
Even Eddie Pepperell, teeing off in the morning with a hangover, potentially could have made a playoff after a 67.
Ultimately, they were just three more players to be denied by the ice-cold Molinari.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80