July 23, 2018
The Best Player won the Open Championship
Carnoustie played as short and easy as it could possibly play for a major championship and still it proved to be a formidable test for the best players in the world. Carnoustie demands precise ball striking and a steady nerve. Francisco Molinari flew under radar as he played with Tiger Woods in the third to last group on Sunday. All eyes were on Tiger as he claimed the lead with eight holes to play. However, Francisco was matching Tiger's play with solid play of his own. Shortly in a stretch of 15 minutes, a double bogie and bogie spelled the end of Tiger's realistic chances. But Carnoustie did that to almost everyone in the field. Kisner, Spieth, Schauffele, Chappell all made a double bogie in their last round. Only Molinari was able to avoid the trouble and record a bogie free last round to claim the victory.
Even in a benign state, Carnoustie was still able to inflict its' punishment for the errant golf shot. Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia, Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, and Bubba Watson couldn't survive the cut. World ranked players like Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, and Zack Johnson were in contention on the weekend, but didn't have staying power to avoid the disaster that this course can dish out on every hole. The last day featured wind that steadly blew between 15 and 25 miles an hour. Because of the change in conditions, the favorites to bring home the trophy changed. Anyone within five shots of the lead had a chance with the best ball strikers having the best chance. Woods, Rose, McIlroy, Fleetwood, and Molinari where the best candidates to make a run at the Claret Jug. In the end only Francisco was able to avoid the mistakes that sunk all his competitors.
The four players that finished two shots back in second place all could've won this championship. All lacked one or two clutch shots that could've been the difference. Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy were surging at the end and just ran out of holes. Xander Schauffele had the best chance, but just didn't finish the deal. He did hit some pressure shots, but couldn't convert the putts. I don't believe he choked, but just wasn't up to the challenge this time. His composure and overall game make me believe he will be a major winner before too long. Jordan Spieth's showing is a bit of a mystery. A terrible decision on the par five 6th hole resulted in a double bogie. The mistake brought him down to six under par, which he held until the easy par five 14th hole. There he three putted from 40 feet for a par. A birdie there and he would be tied for the lead. From that point on, he didn't look like a four time major champion. Last year he played the final five holes in five under par. This year he didn't have the game or gumption to compete down the stretch. That's a mystery to me!
Tiger Woods played good enough to win, but so did four or five other players. His decision to play conservative the first two rounds cost him the ability to shoot lower numbers. By hitting irons off the tee, he effectively played the course 1,000 yards longer. Occasionally there was over 100 yards difference between his iron tee shot and those that hit driver. He was hitting second shots from 210 to 230 yards, while others were hitting wedges from much closer. At this level of play, you can't give up that type of yardage. Saturday he changed his strategy and the result was his best score in a major since shooting 66 at the Masters in 2011. Yes, he briefly held the lead with eight to play, but I think his play the first two rounds cost him this championship. The television coverage of Tiger showed almost every shot. I watched 80% of his shots this week. Balance, rhythm, composure was excellent. It appeared that he had his "A" game working for him. In the past, with that game, he wins. Tiger still has one more piece of the puzzle to figure out. Watch out, when (not if) he does, it might be historic.
The "Champion Golfer of the Year" was clearly the best golfer this week. Great ball striking and a cool demeanor was the successful combination for this year's Open Champion. Francisco Molinari's win is a little bit of a surprise, but not if you look at his stellar career. He "won" this Championship by doing what was required on a demanding golf course. Carnoustie held up to the challenge again and won and produced a rightful winner that deserves the British accolade, "Well done."