Italy's Francesco Molinari has deservedly won the 147th Open Championship and our man looks back at the world number six's brilliant success here...
Americans had won the last five majors in-a-row before last week's Open Championship and there had been a strong presence on the leaderboard from over the Pond all week long. Going in to the final round at Carnoustie yesterday, four players from the States occupied the first four places and it was odds-on that the run would extend to six but it was halted with a sensational performance by Francesco Molinari.
We've been treated to some fantastic final rounds in this Championship lately. Padraig Harrington's successful defence 10 years ago was an impressive performance, Darren Clarke's heroic and stoic victory in 2011 was memorable, Phil Mickelson's brilliant rally at Muirfield five years ago is a personal favourite and who couldn't have been impressed by Henrik Stenson's magnificence two years ago. Molinari's ranks right up there with all of those.
Playing on the wrong side of the draw over the first two days, the 35-year-old Italian, who was generally a 38.00 shot before the off, found himself six off the lead at halfway, having been matched at a high of 190.00 in-running, but a magnificent bogey-free 65 on Saturday saw him move to with three of the lead with a round to go. He still had plenty to do with 18 to play, but in trickier conditions he again went bogey-free and kept his cool when all around him faltered.
Defending champion, Jordan Spieth, hit a low of 2.06 after a steady start but a bogey at five was followed by a double at six and he was eventually beaten by four, after failing to record a single birdie in round four. His final round 76 was his worst round four score in a major.
Rory McIlroy rallied after a slow start and he hit a low of 5.00 in-running and Tiger Woods led the championship after 10 holes. His price dipped to just 2.58 but he made a pig's ear of the 11th to record a double-bogey and he followed that with another drop at the tough 12th. In no time at all the dream had died but it was fun while it lasted. Just for a few minutes, the ultra-tough competitor looked like winning his first major in 10 years but it wasn't to be.
Xander Schauffele, who had endured a rocky three-hole stretch from the fifth, rallied magnificently on the back-nine and he was matched at just 2.40 when he gave himself a great chance of a birdie two at the tough par three 16th, when tied for the lead, but he missed that and, after Francesco had birdied the last to edge ahead, Xander then bogeyed 17 and that was the end of that.
Molinari is the first Italian to win a major.
My pre-event picks, except for rank outsider, Thorbjorn Olesen, were as good as dead after round one and I dropped a clanger by not laying my stakes back on in-running pick, Jon Rahm. I backed him at 20.00 after the opening round, safe in the knowledge that he'd get the better of the conditions in round two. That did transpire to be the case and after he'd birdie the first on Friday, he was matched at just 8.20 and I was sorely tempted to trade out. I wasn't confident he'd be up for the grind and I was right. He missed a few short putts before driving out of bounds at the seventh. He lost his cool after that and went on to miss the cut.
Things weren't looking good at halfway - far from it - but it all turned in my favour after that. I made four bets at the halfway stage and two of them made all the difference. As highlighted in the In-Play Blog, I got Spieth onside at 11.00 and I backed Molinari at 100.00.
Yesterday was manic, and I finished up diluting my winnings with numerous trades on a number of players but all's well that ends well. I still consider myself fortunate though, as right up until the end, I left Schauffele as a loser in the book and it could have all ended very differently.
What Have We Learned This Week?
The overriding reflections to come out of Sunday were the importance of links golf experience and tip-top recent form at this championship.
Schauffele is a future major winner in the making but he, along with Kevin Kisner and Kevin Chappell made one or two errors yesterday that they may not have made with more experience of links golf.
The condition of the course and the lack of wind resulted in the first three days looking and feeling less of a links test than ordinarily encountered but it felt like normal service had resumed on Sunday as the wind picked up and the course dried out again. Molinari's tied ninth in 2013 was his best previous effort in nine prior attempts but he'd put the hours in. He'd acquired the knowledge.
Between them, Schauffele, Kisner and Chappell had played in just six Open Championships and it felt like that may have been the difference as bunkers were found with regularity and drives ran through fairways.
To highlight even further how important experience is, Molinari was the ninth player aged 35 and above to win the Open in the last 12 years.
The Italian was also the 12th Open winner in 15 years to have won earlier in the season. In fact, he'd won a couple of times, and none of other players to trade at less than 2.60 yesterday - Spieth, Woods and Schauffele - had won this season.
Spieth hasn't had the best of years since winning the Open last year and the veneer of decent form just peeled away in the intensity of a major Sunday, Woods' rustiness in-contention was all too obvious when it came to the crunch, and the most recent winner of the three, Schauffele, who won last season's final PGA Tour event, the Tour Championship, came closest to winning after a shaky start.
As the mental pressure cranks up to ten on the back-nine on Sunday, standing over shots knowing you've recently won is clearly a big plus.
It might pay dividends to concentrate on the very best players on the planet. Molinari was playing better than anyone else in the world coming in to the event and he was officially ranked as the 15th best player in the world, so 11 of the last 14 winners have now ranked inside the world's top-30. After his win, Molinari move up to number six in the world, with Justin Rose, who finished tied second, moving up to number two.
And finally, as the old saying goes, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Prior to the 2015 edition of the Open Championship, the five previous winners had all warmed up for the championship by playing in the Scottish Open the week before. Zach Johnson, who had finished third in the John Deere Classic prior to winning in 2015, halted the run but Henrik Stenson made it five from six in 2016. How quickly it all changes though. Only one of the last four winners of the Open Championship have now played in the Scottish Open and more winners over that period (two) have been placed inside the top-three places at the John Deer Classic. Molly was runner-up there.
Will I be ditching what was my best angle in before the off this year next time around? No chance. Conditions were unusual this year and I'm still convinced that under normal British summer conditions, familiarising yourself with links golf is a huge plus.
The Barbasol Championship has been held up with the weather, so I'll be catching up with that later. My pre-event pick, Hunter Mahan, is tied for the lead with a round to go so a decent week could get much better, fingers crossed, and I'll be back tomorrow with previews for this week's events - the Porsche European Open and the RBC Canadian Open.