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British Open: Francesco Molinari wins with slow and steady pace

One of the finest leaderboards in recent golf history scratched and scuffled in the wind at Carnoustie, and in the end, the result was unexpected: a first-time major winner at the 147th British Open.

Francesco Molinari, a longtime European Tour and Ryder Cup stalwart, won the British Open with a steady diet of par-level golf, using the old maxim of keeping his head while others lost theirs. He didn’t card a single hole over par after the 17th on Friday, and used two decisive birdies down the stretch on Sunday — a hammer-smash at 14 and a dagger at 18 — to hold off many of the biggest names in the game.

Molinari finished at 8-under, two shots clear of Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele.

Italy’s Francesco Molinari reacts with his caddie after a birdie putt on the 18th during the final round of the British Open. (REUTERS)

Leaderboard included Spieth, McIlroy, Woods

The day began with tremendous, almost ridiculous promise. Would Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hold onto the Claret jug for another year? Would a first-timer like Kevin Kisner or Xander Schauffele step up in the spotlight? And, most fascinating of all — would Tiger Woods step out of a time machine and win a major for the first time in a decade?

Early on, Woods brought back memories of majors gone by, remaining steady while player after player around him wilted, first Kisner, and then the other leaders. The key turning point came midway through the front nine, when Spieth dropped three strokes over two holes, while Schauffele dropped four strokes over three holes. At the same time, Woods stayed steady to make the turn at 2-under on the day … and that was good enough to give Tiger Woods the solo lead on a Sunday in a major for the first time in half a decade.

Tiger, Jordan fall off the pace

It wouldn’t last. Woods went double bogey-bogey over the 11th and 12th holes, including a sprayed shot that bounced off a fan, and he fell two strokes off the lead, which at that point stood at -6. Molinari, Schauffele, Kisner, Kevin Chappell and Spieth all held a share of the lead, and then others started to join the party. Rory McIlroy, who at one point was six strokes off the lead, changed the equation with an eagle on the 16th, elbowing his way back up to the top of the leaderboard at 6-under and angling for his first major since 2014.

Meanwhile, Eddie Pepperell, who admitted to playing hungover after having too much to drink, posted the round of the day at 4-under to get to -5, a number that looked like it might be good enough for at least a playoff. But Justin Rose, who had to birdie the 18th to make the cut on the number back on Friday, once again birdied the final hole to set the clubhouse lead number at -6.

Molinari slams the door

And then the birdies started falling. Molinari, playing alongside Woods, dropped that key birdie at 14; he had previously carded 13 straight pars and was the only player with a bogey-free card on the day to that point. Two groups afterward, Schauffele very nearly holed an eagle putt on the same hole; he settled for a par to tie Molinari at -7.

And then the leaders started reaching the 18th hole, where Rose’s clubhouse lead stood at -6. McIlroy was the first to match that number, unable to birdie 18 and get ahead. But then came Molinari, who erased McIlroy and Rose by birdieing the final hole to set the clubhouse mark at -8.

From there, it was up to Schauffele, still playing 17 at the time Molinari finished, to try to match. Schauffele bogeyed 17 after a wayward approach that found the gallery, and when he couldn’t hole out on 18, the Claret jug was Molinari’s.

Molinari isn’t just a first-time major winner, he’s Italy’s first-ever major champion. And he earned it on an outstanding week at Carnoustie.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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