Tiger Woods made his way up to the 18thhole on Sunday of the Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Eastern Scotland. His previous hit put his ball less than twenty feet away from the final hole. The crowd around him applauded the eventual winner as he walked down the fairway on the 72ndhole. However, Tiger wasn’t the winner they were applauding; rather, they were applauding his playing partner, Francesco Molinari who is one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour. Despite eventually ending up as the victor, he knew throughout the day that the loud crowd wasn’t really cheering for him. In his own words, Molinari said, “clearly in my group, the attention wasn’t really on me.”
Molinari and Tiger have been paired together before but it was much different the first time around. In the 2006 Masters Molinari and Woods were in the same group. Woods at the time was a four-time green jacket winner and Molinari was a caddie for his older brother Edoardo Molinari. Inspired by his brother’s success, Francesco pushed on and did something many believed to be impossible for an Italian golfer: he became one of the best in the world.
In tournaments prior to the Open, Francesco had no problem emulating what he did in four days in Carnoustie. At the Quicken Loans Invitational, he finished first by eight strokes. In the very next tournament, he finished second, helping him rise in the world ranking to number 15. Although Molinari was on a hot streak going into the Open, he was by no means guaranteed to perform well at Carnoustie. For many years, Molinari had played the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Carnoustie but was so tired of being humiliated by the course he stopped playing the tournament. Despite that fact, he knew there was no chance to skip the Open.
It’s fair to say that during most of the tournament Molinary went unnoticed, but he was not the only golfer who found himself largely ignored. Jordan Speith also went ignored, in large part due to his new ‘high and tight’ haircut. In recent months, Speith had been struggling. His putting, normally one of his real strengths, had not been as confident and firm as it was in prior years. He gained a lot of that confidence back at the Open, which was evident in both his style of play and scoring.
For a few years, both McIlroy and Speith have been competing to fill the role of Best Player. Both were on top of the leaderboard at various points during the Open vying for the position. However, a third entry to the contest threw his name into the hat: the one, the only, Tiger Woods. The biggest names in golf were all a part of the competition on the final day and all were pushing to overcome their setbacks. Woods attempting to recover from his injury, McIlroy from previous major disappointments, and Speith from the worst year of his professional career.
Through it all, the ups and downs, the big names pushed for the top spot but fell short. From behind a long list of formidable names, Molinari pushed through to glory. By the time he walked onto the tee on the last hole, Molinari was no longer competing with Woods, Speith, or McIlroy, but rather was simply competing against himself and the ghost of Jean Van de Velde. He succeeded in conquering those ghosts and since then has returned home with the Claret Jug in hand.