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Royal Portrush ready for The Open and defending champion Molinari

Next stop north coast for Claret Jug with Molinari the new Open champion

By Jim Gracey

History maker Francesco Molinari will arrive at Royal Portrush next July as defending champion for the 148th Open as the countdown now begins to the biggest global sporting event ever hosted by this country.

Delighted Molinari raised the iconic Claret Jug trophy yesterday after becoming the first Italian player to win a major title after one of the most dramatic final rounds in Open Championship history.

Molinari, who had two wins and two second places in his previous five starts this season, carded a nerveless closing 69 at a windswept Carnoustie to finish eight under par, two shots clear of Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Kevin Kisner and Xan-der Schauffele.

McIlroy made a valiant bid to tee off as the home champion when The Open makes a a historic return to Northern Ireland after 68 years from July 18-21 next year with a record 190,00 spectators in attendance.

Over 20 percent of the ticket allocation has already been snapped up. And as the massive organisational now swings towards Portrush, event Executive Director Johnnie Cole-Hamilton said, "We are looking forward to a historic milestone with the return of The Open to Northern Ireland . There is real excitement among fans to see the world's top golfers playing at Royal Portrush and it promises to be a fantastic championship."

Playing alongside a rejuvenated Tiger Woods, Molinari followed 13 straight pars with a birdie on the 14th and finished a brilliant round in fitting style with another from just three feet on the 18th.

“I’m lost for words really,” said Molinari, whose finished joint second in last year’s US PGA Championship. “It’s incredible to do something like this and I’m very proud of what I’ve done.

“It’s amazing to stand here with the Claret Jug. I knew I was coming in with some good golf but my record around here was terrible so that didn’t make me too optimistic about the week, but I just tried to not think about it and focus on hitting good shots day by day.”

It was a deserved victory for Molinari, 23 years after compatriot Costantino Rocca’s play-off loss to John Daly at St Andrews.

“Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Costantino in ‘95 coming so close,” Molinari said. “Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was then.”

Justin Rose, who had birdied the 18th in the second round just to make the cut, followed his record-equalling 64 on Saturday with a 69, while clubhouse leader for a time McIlroy recovered from a slow start with the aid of an eagle on the 14th to record his third straight top five in the Open.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth went into the final round tied for the lead with Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, but stumbled to the turn in 39 and Kisner managed one shot worse to throw the tournament wide open.

For much of the afternoon it looked as though everything was falling into place for Woods to pull off a barely believable victory, his first of any description since 2013, the 15th major of his amazing career and a first since the 2008 US Open.

But just when one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time seemed on the cards, Woods failed to pull off a risky flop shot to get out of trouble on the 11th and ran up a deflating double bogey.

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