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Nerves of steel: Molinari beats Spieth, Tiger to win maiden major title at British Open

Francesco Molinari of Italy holds the trophy and his wife Valentina Molinari after winning the British Open. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Francesco Molinari of Italy holds the trophy and his wife Valentina Molinari after winning the British Open. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

CARNOUSTIE, United Kingdom (AFP) – Italy’s Francesco Molinari emerged from the pack in a thrilling finale at Carnoustie to win the British Open on Sunday, seeing off the challenges of reigning champion Jordan Spieth and a revived Tiger Woods to win the first major of his career.

At the age of 35, he becomes the first Italian player ever to win a major, after keeping his cool in remarkable fashion when almost all around him seemed to be losing theirs on a warm but windy afternoon on the Scottish coast.

A two-under-par round of 69 allowed him to finish on eight-under, two shots clear of the quartet of Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner on six-under.

Molinari had started the day three shots behind a trio of overnight leaders in Schauffele, Kisner and Spieth, who were all nine under par when they teed off.

The latter had been hoping to become the first player since Padraig Harrington a decade ago to retain the Claret Jug, but he faded with a final-round 76 to finish on four-under.

Meanwhile Woods, who was playing with Molinari, was in the outright lead at one point on Sunday but ended with a 71 to finish in a tie for sixth with England’s Eddie Pepperell and Kevin Chappell of the United States.

Molinari was not at all fazed by the huge crowds and the media circus following Woods, and he did not have a single bogey all day, following on from a blemish-free 65 on Saturday.

Indeed, he had 13 successive pars before a birdie at the long 14th hole and then another birdie at the 18th. He then embraced his caddy, although he still had to wait for Schauffele to come down the last and for his victory to be confirmed.

His success ends a run of five consecutive majors being won by Americans, and confirms an incredible run of form for Molinari after his victory at the PGA Championship at Wentworth in England in May and a first PGA Tour win at the Quicken Loans National recently.

“It’s amazing to stand here with the Claret Jug. My record around here was terrible, which didn’t make me too optimistic about the week,” he said.

“Very proud of today, obviously playing with Tiger was another challenge because of the crowds, but I felt really good coming here this morning and felt ready for a challenge.”

It was a surprise to see any one player finish clear of the pack after an afternoon of twists and turns that had left a play-off – as there had been in each of the last three Opens here – looking inevitable.

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