Europe Rules on Both Sides of the Atlantic
ANOTHER weekend, another day for Europe to celebrate two remarkable victories on either side of the Atlantic. On a day of high drama at Le Golf National, Sweden’s Alex Noren birdied two of his last three holes to claim the Open de France - his seventh European Tour title in four years, and his second Rolex Series success. Meanwhile, Italy’s Francesco Molinari was returning a final round of 62 to win the Quicken Loans National on the PGA Tour by an astonishing eight strokes.
Noren, who started the final round in France seven shots off the lead, secured his place in Thomas Bjorn’s European Ryder Cup team with his win, and will return to Le Golf National in September as Europe attempt to regain the trophy.
Noren birdied the 12th, 16th and 17th holes to set the clubhouse target at seven under par but was still behind on-course leader Julian Suri as he signed for a 67 and it seemed unlikely that it was going top be good enough.
However, Suri put his second on the 18th into the water. It cost him a double-bogey and with England's Chris Wood also dropping shots at the 15th and 17th, Noren ended up snatching a most unlikely victory.
Suri and Wood finished a shot off the lead alongside Scot Russell Knox - who had earlier signed for a 65 - with Knox, Suri and Swede Marcus Kinhult earning a spot at the Open Championship later this month.
Kinhult had entered the day with a two-shot lead but he signed for a closing 76 to finish at five under alongside Jon Rahm and England's Matthew Southgate.
American Justin Thomas, Swede Alexander Björk and Spanish pair Jorge Campillo and Sergio Garcia finished three shots off the lead.
The happiest man in France ???????????????????? pic.twitter.com/nx2QWybuHh— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 1, 2018
Noren's last win came in similar fashion at the 2017 BMW PGA Championship - the inaugural Rolex Series event - when he posted a stunning 62 on the final day to come from seven shots back and was left to wait and see if he had done enough at Wentworth. He has played much of his golf on the PGA Tour in 2018 and has twice come close to winning in America.
“When you're out there you really want this win and it felt unbelievable to get it today,” he said. “It's what I was putting and practising for, maybe a play-off, it was unreal how it went and I didn't expect that.”
Noren’s win serves as perfect preparation for September when the Ryder Cup will come to Le Golf National, with the Swede now surely certain of making his debut in the competition. “If I would be on the team it would mean a lot,” he added. “You get good memories from here. The first two years I came here I thought I could never win around here and the last three years I've had good results. It helps a lot.”
Suri set up a tap-in for birdie with a wonderful tee-shot on the second and then took advantage of the par five third before handing a shot back on the next.
Wood got in real trouble on the third, finding the thick rough off the tee and failing to get out of it before playing a poor chip over the back of the green for a double-bogey.
With Kinhult birdieing from six feet on the same hole, he led by four, but a triple-bogey on the next after finding rough off the tee and sending his third onto a cart-path brought him back to the pack. Kinhult then made eight pars in a row and Suri was the first man to join him at the top, putting his second from 251 yards to three feet on the par five ninth for an eagle, and holing from four feet for a birdie on the tenth.
At that point, Noren was still three shots off the lead after a tee-shot to tap-in range on the second and approaches to inside ten feet on the fifth and 12th to go with a bogey on the fourth.
Wood hit the ninth in two and holed from eight feet on the 10th to take the lead on his own and while Suri edged ahead on the 14th, he gave the shot straight back on the next.
Noren's tee-shot on the 16th left him five feet for birdie and when he holed a long putt on the next to bring a big celebration, he was the leader in the clubhouse.
Suri's double-bogey on the last left Wood as Noren's only competition but the 30 year old failed to get up and down after missing the green on the 15th and 17th to hand Noren the title.
Knox was bogey-free in signing for a 65 with birdies on the fifth, eighth, ninth, tenth, 11th and 14th.
Kinhult bogeyed the 13th and made a double on the 15th to drop back, while Southgate surged through the field with birdies on the first, third, fourth, eighth, ninth, 14th and 17th but dropped a shot on the penultimate hole.
Rahm was tied for the lead but he also came to grief, this time dropping three shots at the 12th and, while a birdie on the 16th gave him hope, he was another who found the water on the last.
Garcia did well to recover from a triple-bogey on the first after twice going in the water but he double-bogeyed the last after again hitting the lake in a 74. Campillo had one bogey and six birdies in a 66, while Björk signed for a 70 and Thomas carded a 71.
But the one thing everybody will take away from this week is that the course was the real winner and will surely be the perfect setting for a whole heap of drama in September.
FRANCESCO MOLINARI produced the best performance of his career when he shot a final round of 62 to win the Quicken Loans National at TPC Potomac. The Italian began the week in 123rd place in the FedEx Cup standings after a best finish of 12th place at the Wells Fargo Championship, but after rounds of 67, 65 and 65 he found himself with a share of the lead after 54 holes.
He opened up a three-shot lead at the turn and then went eagle, birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie to open the back nine and destroy the field.
“I came here obviously because I was right on the bubble in the FedExCup and I wanted to gain a better position, so I guess job done,” he smiled as he moved to 42nd on the list. “It was (a big risk), but the risk on the other side was I was 123rd on the FedExCup. When you play two tours, you need to balance the two things.
“It wasn't an easy decision, I thought until the last minute whether to go to France or to come here but seems like it was the right choice in the end.”
While Molinari has five European Tour wins, this was his first PGA Tour triumph and comes on top of a victory at the BMW PGA Championship and a runners-up finish at the Italian Open.
One of his wins is the World Golf Championship – HSBC Champions but it came in 2010 before the event was granted PGA Tour status.
“When everyone was saying I never won on the PGA TOUR, I felt like saying, well, technically, it was pretty much a PGA Tour tournament. But it's just a formality, and I think it's different anyway to win on U.S. soil,” Molinari said. “That was obviously in China and it's more international. It's just a different kind of event. So this win feels special.
“It's amazing to win a tournament hosted by Tiger. He is probably the greatest ever to play the game and I grew up as a teenager watching him on TV dominating golf tournaments.
“It's even more special to win in this style and to get his congratulations on the last green was a very proud moment for me.”
Molinari will stay in the USA and play in a few weeks at the John Deere Classic before heading back to Scotland for The Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Ryan Armour finished second, South Korea’s Suang Kang was third and Woods finished with a 66 for a share of fourth place.
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