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Carnoustie is the Real Winner at the 147th Open Championship

By: | Mon 23 Jul 2018

THE week began with everybody reflecting on the 1999 Open Championship and the extraordinary collapse of Jean Van de Velde. It was impossible to pick up a newspaper or switch on TV coverage without some reference being made to Paul Lawrie’s unlikely victory.

And then they turned their attention to 2007 when Padraig Harrington beat Sergio Garcia in a four-hole playoff after twice putting his ball in the Barry Burn at the 72nd hole. Carnoustie, or Carnasty as it became known, was the toughest golf course on The Open rota - except that for three days in 2018 it was actually a pussycat. A pussycat with no claws, a pussycat that wanted to have its tummy tickled.

After weeks of glorious summer weather the fairways were baked dry, the rough stubbornly refused to grow. Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm were just two of the players who told us that they were going to overpower the links and bring it to its knees. They were going to reach for driver and they were going reach several par fours and reduce the others to little more than a lob wedge.

On day one McIlroy hit just four fairways but somehow managed to get his ball round in 69, as did Rahm. Easy. Nothing to it. Except that on day two even this most benign of courses wreaked revenge on Rahm and he stumbled to a horrific round of 78 and missed the cut, walking away from the East Coast of Scotland with steam coming out of his ears.

McIlroy drove the ball better on day two, finding most of the fairways. But guess what? He finished with the same score that he had recorded on Thursday.

Tiger Woods, meanwhile, decided that Carnoustie was reminiscent of Hoylake, where he won in 2006, using his driver just once all week. For Woods, it was going to be two iron from the tee. And why not? It meant that he could keep the ball on the short grass. And the fairways were so hard that he saw several iron shots roll a mind-boggling 300 yards and more. Woods opened with a pair of 71s.

The point being that it turned out there was more than one way to play Carnoustie but the men who shot the lowest scores over the course of the four days were those who plotted their way round this formidable links. On Saturday, with the sun beating down and next to no wind, a total of 31 players broke 70 - that is unheard of around here.

The final day was a different story altogether. Just six men broke 70 and one of those was Francesco Molinari, who had 16 pars and two birdies for a 69. It was a round of golf that was reminiscent of Nick Faldo’s performance during the final round at Muirfield in 1987 when he recorded 18 straight pars. It would be easy to look at Molinari’s card and assume that he played flawless golf. He did not. Time and again he holed brave putts for par. But the key to his success was that he knew where to miss the greens, to give himself the best chance of getting up and down for par.

Tiger Woods saw his challenge come to grief on the par four 11th hole. There will be those who will blame a poor second shot for the double-bogey six that saw him lose the lead. The fault actually lay with the drive that he hit into thick rough on the right. He was forced to go for the green and hit an awful pull. It ended up in a dreadful spot to the left of the green and, desperate not to drop a shot, he went for the “hero” shot, failed to make the green and took three putts.

Yes, many of the flags were in difficult positions on the final day. The Open is a major - what else were the R&A going to do? Francesco Molinari may well have walked away here as the Champion Golfer of 2018 but the real winner, once again, was the course itself. When the week began, many pundits were predicting that somebody would shoot a 61 or a 62. Nobody came close, even on a links that, for three full days, was largely defenceless.

Royal Portrush has a difficult act to follow.

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