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Sunday, 22 July 2018
Francesco Molinari   (Getty Images)
Francesco Molinari (Getty Images)

When Costantino Rocca holed his remarkable putt from the Valley of Sin on St Andrews’ 18th hole in 1995, it looked as though Italy was about to gain a first Major Champion.

Rocca’s 65-foot effort forced a play-off with John Daly, with the American eventually prevailing after extra holes.

However, Rocca’s accomplishments, which included beating Tiger Woods in the 1997 Ryder Cup singles, helped inspire Francesco Molinari that anything was possible within the game of golf.

Finally, 23 years later, Italy have their Open Champion.


Molinari and his older brother Edoardo had already been identified by the Italian Golf Federation as Rocca came so close to winning the Claret Jug.

Born in Turin, they worked their way through the Italian youth and amateur systems, with Francesco first to go professional in 2004 after winning two Italian Amateur Championship titles.

Francesco came through the European Tour Qualifying School the same year and a top-ten finish at Gleneagles helped secure his card in his rookie campaign – although the Scottish venue would later be a scene of disappointment for the 35 year old.

A first European Tour title came in Molinari’s national Open in 2006, and he quickly established himself as one of the most consistent players on the circuit.

Nine top-tens in 2009, including runner-up finishes in Hong Kong and Portugal, preceded a World Cup of Golf victory for Italy alongside Edoardo, and 19 consecutive made cuts in 2010 including a tie for second in France, saw Molinari qualify for Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup side.

His brother Edoardo was given a wild card by captain Colin Montgomerie after winning at Gleneagles, where Francesco finished tied third, and the siblings were twice paired together – picking up a half point in the fourballs as Europe secured a 14 ½ - 13 ½ triumph at the Celtic Manor Resort.

In November 2010 Francesco brilliantly held off Lee Westwood to win a first World Golf Championships title at the HSBC Champions and, with Matteo Manassero also coming to the fore, it appeared an Italian Major triumph was only a matter of time.

He again followed in Rocca’s footsteps as he was paired against Woods in the singles for a second successive Ryder Cup, putting the finishing touches on the Miracle of Medinah in 2012 with a half point which secured Europe’s outright win after Martin Kaymer had ensured Europe would retain the trophy.

However, Molinari went four years without a victory following his 2012 success at the Open de España – a spell in which he was overlooked for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles - and although he became the first Italian to win his national title twice in 2016, there were fears his immense talent could go unfulfilled.

Hopefully there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Costantino [Rocca] in 1995 coming so close to winning at St Andrews - ​Francesco Molinari

He had come no closer to winning a Major than a tie for ninth at the 2013 Open midway through last year when, at Quail Hollow, he showed he had what it takes in the game’s biggest events by pushing Justin Thomas all the way before finishing tied for second.

A more assured putting technique allied with his imperious iron play saw Molinari embark on a tremendous run of form in the spring of 2018, keeping Rory McIlroy at bay to capture the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club without dropping a shot over the weekend.

He finished second on home soil before notching a top-25 position in the US Open and winning the US PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans National by a resounding eight shots, before warming up for Carnoustie with a runner-up finish at the John Deere Classic.

Having steadily plotted his way into contention at the 147th Open Championship, it was fitting that Molinari was again paired with Woods for the final round. 

Many would have crumbled under the spotlight of the 14-time Major Champion surging into contention on the front nine, but Molinari chalked off the pars before striking decisively with birdies at the 14th and famously devilish 18th.

An Italian Major Champion, and one humble enough to pay tribute to Rocca, his family and his coaches in the immediate aftermath of his career highlight.

"To achieve something like this is on another level," he said. "Hopefully there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Costantino [Rocca] in 1995 coming so close to winning at St Andrews." 

A victory well worth the wait.

 

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1MOLINARI, FrancescoITA18-8
T2ROSE, JustinENG18-6
T2MCILROY, RoryNIR18-6
T2KISNER, KevinUSA18-6
T2SCHAUFFELE, XanderUSA18-6
T6PEPPERELL, EddieENG18-5

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