CARNOUSTIE • Francesco Molinari's first taste of Major championship golf was caddying for his older brother, Edoardo, at the US Masters.
But, 12 years on, he was the Molinari saving the pars and making the putts under duress, and he is no longer under the shadow of any Italian golfer after his pressure-proof performance at this year's Open.
At age 35, Molinari gave Italy its first victory in a Major by outplaying a tightly packed field on Sunday that included defending champion Jordan Spieth, a resurgent Tiger Woods and the leading European players of Molinari's generation: Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy.
His success also ends a run of five consecutive Majors being won by Americans.
While the stars faltered, Molinari maintained a steady course. And although a Woods victory, after all his health and personal challenges, would have been a comeback tale that transcended golf, that was not Molinari's concern.
"I was competing against all the other guys as well, not only against him," Molinari said.
His final-round score of 69 allowed him to finish with an eight-under total of 276: two strokes ahead of Rose (69), McIlroy (70), Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele (both 74), and three strokes ahead of Woods (71), Eddie Pepperell (67) and Kevin Chappell (73).
Internally, the magnitude of the moment must have been difficult to navigate for Molinari at Carnoustie Golf Links, which has been the scene of some of the most extreme reversals of fortune in the game's long championship history.
"I mean, there was everything to make someone nervous," Molinari said.
He added that it would take some time for his achievement to sink in and admitted he would probably need to change his flight home to have more time to celebrate.
"I had an easyJet flight at 9am to get back home, so I think that's gone," said the London-based golfer when asked how he intended to celebrate.
"I have a holiday plan for next week somewhere nice with the family. So hopefully, we can still make the holiday and just relax for a few days."
When asked to sum up his feelings, he added: "Just disbelief, to be honest. It's amazing to stand here with the Claret Jug.
"The course bit me a few times the first couple of days, but I just tried to not think about it and focus on hitting good shots day by day."
He displayed nothing but cool, going without a bogey over the final two rounds on what is widely considered the most difficult course on the British Open rotation.
Of the eight players in the final four groups on Sunday, only Molinari finished under par.
Spieth's putting was again a liability. But he also struggled with his ball-striking in the wind, making too many visits to the rough and even one visit to a gorse bush on No. 6 that forced him to take a penalty drop. He finished with a 76, tied for ninth place.
"To look at the names on that Claret Jug, obviously, what can you say? It's the best golfers in history and, to be on there, it's incredible," Molinari added.
"From someone like me coming from Italy, not really a major golfing country, it's been an incredible journey."
NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE