By Sean Gregory
July 22, 2018

Francesco Molinari, of Italy, won the 147th British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland on Sunday. Molinari, 35, certainly earned his Claret Jug, playing almost flawless golf on a gusty day off the eastern Scottish coast. As superstars like Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy all lurked around the leaderboard, Molinari refused to wilt. He didn’t bogey a single hole, and scored two birdies, good enough to finish the tournament eight under par. Molinari becomes the first Italian-born golfer to ever win a major championship.

Congrats to Molinari, who’s been one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour; he’s now won three of his last six starts. But this being golf, all attention must turn to Woods.

As long as Woods, at 42, keeps chasing his elusive 15th major championship, his quest will loom over the sport. Woods made a charge on Saturday, shooting a five-under-par 66 to begin the day just four strokes back of the lead. Then Woods made two birdies on the front nine and shared the lead. On the tenth hole, an aggressive shot out of a fairway pot bunker landed near the edge of the green. Suddenly, Tiger Woods, after the scandals and injuries and last years’s DUI that stemmed from a struggle with pain medication, sat atop a leaderboard, alone, at a major for the first time since the 2011 Masters.

For Tiger, major victories were once inevitable. Given his downfall over the decade since he won his last one, the 2008 U.S., they now seem near impossible. But here Tiger was, just eight holes away from completing one of the more momentous comebacks in sports.

In his prime, Woods could never be called the most endearing champion. A generation of golf fans, however, don’t care. They only watched golf because of Tiger. They only spent hours, on beautiful spring and summer days, rapt by their televisions, thanks to Tiger. For them, he is the sport. Only one more major can complete the Tiger Woods saga. They could taste it.

But golf rounds turn sour, fast. With a wayward tee shot on 11, and a second that caromed off a spectator, Woods double bogeyed the 11th. He bogeyed 12. One birdie on 14 got him back to five under; Rory McIlroy had eagled that hole to get to six under and grab a share of the lead. Could golf’s three biggest names — Woods, Spieth, McIlroy — all wind up in a playoff? It never hurts to dream.

Spieth, however, struggled. The 2017 British Open champ shot five over par for the day, finishing at four under, tied for ninth place. And Molinari had other plans.

For Woods to have a chance, he needed to birdie 18, while Molinari bogeyed the hole. Woods’ approach shot stopped 10 feet of the hole. Then Molinari, all day a quiet killer, knocked his approach even closer — effectively knocking Woods out of the tournament. Woods missed his birdie putt. Molinari sunk his, giving him sole possession of the lead at eight under par. American Xander Schauffele bogeyed 17 to fall two shots behind Molinari; Schauffele’s Hail Mary eagle attempt from the fairway fell short on 18, giving Molinari the title.

In all, with so many stars bunched together atop the leaderboard, golf enjoyed a grand day at Carnoustie. Woods, dressed in his signature Sunday red and black, held a major championship lead. His game’s been clicking all year.

Golf’s days could soon be getting better.

 

 

Write to Sean Gregory at sean.gregory@time.com.

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