Open Championship 2018: From fantastic Francesco Molinari to solid Shubhankar Sharma, 5 things we learned at Carnoustie
From Francesco Molinari's brilliant form, Tiger Woods' comeback and Shubhankar Sharma's solid showing, here is what we learned at The Open Championship.
The Open at Carnoustie once again proved to be a humdinger. The last three championships (1975, 1999, 2007) at the renowned links course were decided by play-offs and even though Francesco Molinari triumphed by two shots on Sunday, it was no less exciting for the 172,000 spectators who turned up for the oldest golf championship in the world.
Here are five things we learned during the tournament:
Masterful Molinari is just smokin' hot
The quiet and almost shy Italian Francesco Molinari goes about his business in the most unassuming manner. On Sunday, surrounded by the Ferraris and the Lamborghinis of the golfing world, he zoomed ahead in tricky conditions with the assurance of a Vespa.
By becoming the first ever from his country to win a major championship, the 35-year-old once again proved he is the hottest golfer on the planet right now. He has had two wins (BMW PGA and Quicken Loans National) and two runner-up finishes in his last five starts.
One of the straightest hitters in the world, Molinari is reaping rich rewards of shoring up his short game lately. That part of his game was the reason why he was the only player to play Sunday's round in that kind of wind without a bogey.
Being straight off the tee and reliability on and around the green always leads to good results in golf, so expect Molinari to keep contending in the future.
Let's not doubt the Woods comeback anymore
As amazing as Molinari's performance was, he will have to share the spotlight at the 147th Open Championship with the rejuvenated Tiger Woods. In finishing tied sixth and actually leading the tournament briefly on the final day, the 14-time major winner has shown that he is far from being a spent force.
Woods has now proved beyond doubt that he is in good shape physically. The next step would be to get his much-admired winning mentality again. Even for someone so used to closing tournaments in the past, he has faltered time and again at tournaments this year when in contention on the final day.
A battling even-par 71 left him three shots behind eventual champion Molinari, but it once again raised hopes that there is still a threat to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles.
The path to his 15th major begins with his next win, even if it comes at a smaller tournament. I have no doubt that once Tiger tastes blood, he would become an unstoppable force.
Carnoustie is a timeless golf course
The golf course in the small Angus town lived up to its reputation of being one of the best venues on the Open Championship rota.
Even though the organisers R&A cut down the yardage by 19 yards, a rarity in this day and age when every golf course seems to be increasing its length to rein in the long hitters, Carnoustie managed to hold its own.
A winning score of eight-under-par showed just how good a challenge it provided to the best players in the world. In true links tradition, every day seemed to be different – Thursday was bright and sunny with the fairways running like crazy and Friday wet and cold. While it was forgiving on Saturday as the greens became receptive following the rain, it returned to its furious self when the wind picked up on Sunday.
Sharma is the real deal, but he needs time
There were two stretches of nine holes during the tournament which could be produced in any court of law to get a unanimous verdict that India's Shubhankar Sharma belongs at this elite stage.
A final result of tied 51st may not seem like much but let's not forget that he just turned 22 last Saturday and that his real international tournament experience is no more than a couple of years. And on top of that, he had never played a tournament on links course until two weeks before the Open Championship.
The two stretch of holes I am talking about are the back nine on Friday and the front nine on Sunday.
In round two, he seemed to be on his way out when making the turn at five-over with the extremely demanding back nine of Carnoustie yet to play. He then proceeded to make four birdies, including a pressure-packed on in front of the 18th grandstand.
On Sunday, the wind changed completely at Carnoustie and the front nine became treacherous. Only four players in the field played the first eight holes two-under or better – Eddie Pepperell and Cameron David (3-under) and Tiger Woods and Sharma (2-under).
Clearly, he has the skills, and he has heart to play golf at this level. Give the young man some time and he could soon become a contender at majors.
Europe breaks the American stranglehold
With the Ryder Cup just around the corner (28-30 September), both Europe and the United States are involved in a game of one-upmanship to gain an initial advantage in their much-anticipated battle.
With European players having won only one title since the 2016 PGA Championship (Sergio Garcia, 2017 Masters), the American media have already started dismissing the chances of their rivals.
And the way the leaderboard was shaping up on the final day at Carnoustie, it looked as if the Open Championship would also add to the edge of Team USA.
But Fantastic Francesco ensured that was not to be. And on the final day, prominent European members like Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose rallied brilliantly to finish tied second.
Europe has the bragging rights, as for now at least.
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