Francesco Molinari goes bogey-free, wins The Open

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There was chaos, and there was carnage. But in the end, a star-studded leaderboard gave way to the breakthrough of a decorated veteran. Here’s how things ended up at the 147th Open, where a steady round from Francesco Molinari turned into a two-shot victory at Carnoustie:

Leaderboard: Francesco Molinari (-8), Xander Schauffele (-6), Rory McIlroy (-6), Justin Rose (-6), Kevin Kisner (-6), Tiger Woods (-5)

What it means: For much of the afternoon, it seemed like the Molinari-Woods pairing would produce an improbable champion – just not Molinari. Woods was in control of his game at the halfway point, taking a one-shot lead at the turn and apparently within reach of a 15th major. But chaos shortly ensued after he doubled the 11th, and amidst a bogey barrage from other contenders Molinari’s even-keel round of 16 pars and two birdies helped him rise to the top. He broke free of a tie with Schauffele thanks to a birdie on the 72nd hole, then watched as his score held up. It’s his third win in his last five worldwide starts, and at age 35 the Italian now has his first major championship after only one top-10 finish in 10 previous Open appearances.

Round of the day: On a day when the winds were up and conditions as tough as they’ve been all week, Molinari started his round with 13 straight pars before finally making birdie on the par-5 14th that was playing more like a par 4 during the final round. He didn’t add another circle until stuffing his final approach to 8 feet, but it was his lack of mistakes that proved to be his biggest strength on a day when the three players who shared the 54-hole lead combined to shoot 11 over.

Best of the rest: Eddie Pepperell admitted that he was “a little hungover” after a disappointing third-round performance, but he shook off the cobwebs in stunning fashion while shooting a 4-under 67 to rocket up the leaderboard. Pepperell made five birdies against just a single bogey to go from eight shots off the lead into a tie for sixth, his best-ever finish in a major.

Biggest disappointment: The back-to-back bid for Jordan Spieth fell apart in shocking fashion. Seen as the favorite among the trio sharing the 54-hole lead, Spieth came undone on the par-5 sixth hole after hitting into a gorse bush en route to a double bogey. After appearing in command for much of the first three days, Spieth didn’t make a single birdie during the final round while dropping into a tie for ninth after a final-round 76.

Shot of the day: Molinari was still tied with Schauffele at 7 under when he stood over his wedge shot from the light rough right of the 18th fairway, but he steeled his nerves and flighted a shot that rolled to within 10 feet. The subsequent putt broke the tie and ultimately gave Molinari a two-shot margin of victory.

An Inside Look as the Open Returns to Royal Portrush

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Before Augusta National’s “Amen Corner” there was “Calamity Corner,” the renowned 16th at Royal Portrush Golf Club’s Dunluce Links.

This week, golf viewers around the world will get to know this hole as the Open Championship makes its epic homecoming to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951. 

Royal Portrush’s Head Professional for the last twenty years, Gary McNeill, has extremely high expectations for the anticipated 148th Open.

However, the course that players will face starting Thursday morning does not look exactly like the track that McNeill and the rest of the Portrush community have cherished since its inception. 

In order to accommodate the influx of fans expected by the R&A each year at the Open, the Dunluce has had to undergo some major alterations. The only space large enough for the required spectator village was the land occupied by the original Harry Colt-designed 17th and 18th holes. 

Although the final two holes held a special place in Portrush’s history, the members were willing to build two new holes, slotted in as the 7th and 8th, which borrowed land from the club’s second course, the Valley Links. Other notable renovations include two new bunkers on the 1st and a new championship tee box on the 14th, making the hole 80 yards longer. 

“Everything that Martin Ebert, the architect, has done is very much in keeping with what was already here,” said McNeill. “It just feels like the course is almost a better golf course with the addition of the two new holes.”

The old 17th and 18th holes were situated on a relatively flat piece of the property and “didn’t have a lot of character” McNeill explained. The new 7th and 8th holes, on the other hand, boast sweeping undulations that run throughout the fairways and greens and are located in one of the most scenic sections of the golf course. 

Another picturesque hole, the 5th, named “White Rocks,” is a 380-yard downhill dogleg par four, featuring three new fairway bunkers, including two that are about 300 yards from the tee, strategically placed to catch wayward drives. The real danger, though, lies behind the green. The tiered putting surface slopes away from you, toward the daunting cliffs of White Rocks beach. A treacherous out-of-bounds line is only a few paces off the back of the green. 

“During the championship they will play the players up a bit, to entice them to have a crack at the green. It’s what the R&A look upon as a ‘risk and reward’ short par four where there’s a bit of entertainment for the spectators,” said McNeill. “If they get a hard bounce, or catch some of the slopes there, they could run out of bounds over the back. We anticipate that there will be quite a bit of drama on this one.” 

Royal Portrush’s most famous hole, the unnerving par three 16th, fittingly named “Calamity Corner,” will prove to be drama-prone as well, especially during the Sunday finish. Measuring at a lengthy 236 yards, it is played over a “very deep chasm which lies between the tee and the green and on the right-hand side,” said McNeill.

To the left of the green is a shallow swale, a sort of safe-haven for players who either unconsciously or consciously choose to guard against the danger to the right. In the 1951 Open, Bobby Locke purposefully played to this area each day of the championship and made an up-and-down par each time, giving the corner a title that stuck: Bobby Locke’s Hollow. 

Will players be happy to walk away from Calamity Corner with a par? “They’d be delighted,” McNeill emphatically remarked.  

Like at any traditional links course, the swirling coastal winds will play a major factor. But Royal Portrush takes this challenge to a new level. 

“There are no two holes that consecutively run in the same direction,” explained McNeill. “You are constantly dealing with winds coming from different directions.”

As a whole, Portrush is known to be a driver’s golf course. In order to attack pins on the Dunluce’s many elevated greens, it is imperative to be playing from the manicured fairways. 

The rough, on the other hand, is nightmarish. According to McNeill the tall grass is “particularly penal this year. It has been unusually warm through the winter and the spring months so it’s a little juicier than it normally would be at this time of year.” 

Whose game will fit this masterfully crafted puzzle-like links? 

McNeill has his eye on the 28-year-old Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, whose accuracy off the tee could give him a great shot at being named this year’s Champion Golfer of the Year. 

“Tommy Fleetwood is a great driver of the golf ball and he’s been knocking on the door at the US Open on tough golf courses, where the premium is very much on driving the ball in play.”

McNeill noted that the Portrush community has a great deal of confidence in Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, and Darren Clarke, three Northern Ireland natives. Additionally, Brooks Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliot, grew up playing Royal Portrush. 

“Ricky knows this golf course very well and Brooks – there’s not many players playing better than him now, particularly in major championships,” said McNeill. 

When the Claret Jug is raised Sunday evening in the shadows of the Dunluce castle ruins, golf viewers will all be hoping it does not take another 68 years for the Open Championship to make another swing through this dreamscape on the coast of Northern Ireland. 

Furyk: Reed, Tiger knew ‘weeks in advance’ they’d partner

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One week after watching the Europeans celebrate at Le Golf National, Jim Furyk admitted that the sting of defeat still lingers from his stint as U.S. Ryder Cup captain.

“It’s been tough,” Furyk said. “I was the leader of that team, and it didn’t go the way we wanted. It’ll always bother me.”

Furyk sat down with Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte for a wide-ranging interview in the wake of a 17 1/2 to 10 1/2 defeat to Thomas Bjorn’s European squad last week in Paris. While topics included the demanding course setup and the underwhelming performances from Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, two captain’s picks who combined to go 0-6, Furyk also expanded on his decision to pair Woods with Patrick Reed in two fourball matches.

Reed seemingly lobbed a grenade at his teammates and captain in the wake of the American loss, explaining that it was Jordan Spieth’s idea to break up their formidable pairing from the past two Ryder Cups and calling the decision-making process a “buddy system” that excludes the input of some players.

But according to Furyk, Reed was in the loop on his pairing with Woods well in advance, all the way down to having a discussion with the captain about where exactly he’d like to be slotted among the four matches during Friday’s opening session.

“When I started looking at who (Tiger) would pair well with, I kept coming back to Patrick Reed,” Furyk said. “There was always the idea that we could go Tiger and JT (Justin Thomas), and Patrick and Jordan, but ultimately they knew going into the week, weeks in advance, they knew they would start the Ryder Cup with Patrick and Tiger being partners.”

Furyk also discussed the other piece of tabloid fodder to emerge after the tournament, that being an alleged incident between Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka on their final evening in Paris. Koepka denied the report last week at the Alfred Dunhill Links, and Furyk clearly refuted an additional report that anything happened on the team charter to France.

And while Furyk reiterated the close relationship between the two friends, he also seemed to imply that some sort of incident, however minor, did occur.

“Whatever altercation started, or what happened, it was very brief. It was very short. Neither one of them really took anything out of it,” Furyk said. “They’re like brothers. Brothers may argue, brothers get into it. But they’re as close as they’ve ever been, and it really had no effect on either one of them.”

Although Furyk admitted that the sound defeat his squad suffered has left him with a “hollow feeling,” he told Rosaforte that after 18 months of preparation for three days of matches, the only thing that surprised him was the final outcome for a team that he very much believed in – and still does.

“I’d take those 12 players into the fire any day, on any course. And I still would,” Furyk said. “Last week didn’t work out the way we wanted, but I love those guys and I love what we had together in the team room. And I’d do it all over again.”