Justin Rose has rekindled his love of the Open Championship after finally surpassing his teenage heroics of two decades ago.
Rose finished in a tie for fourth as a 17-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998 and had recorded just one other top 10 in 15 subsequent appearances, despite having won the US Open in 2013 and Olympic gold in 2016.
But the 37-year-old put that disappointing statistic behind him with a tie for second at Carnoustie thanks to a record-equalling 64 in the third round and a closing 69 which left him two shots behind former Ryder Cup team-mate Francesco Molinari.
“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament. That I can win the Open,” said Rose, who only made the halfway cut by making a birdie on the 18th in the second round.
“When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away. I really enjoy it. It was great to get the crowd behind me. I hadn’t felt the energy of the crowd for a while in the Open. That was a real positive for me and it renews the love of the Open for me.”
.@JustinRose99 makes four birdies in four days on 18. He will be clubhouse leader at-6.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 22, 2018
Rose looked to be out of contention after playing his first 13 holes in one over par, but hit the pin with his approach to the par-five 14th to set up a tap-in eagle and birdied the 18th for the fourth day running to overhaul Eddie Pepperell as the clubhouse leader.
“I set myself the lofty goal to shoot five under on the back nine to get to eight under,” Rose added. “The leaders started to wobble a little bit toward the end of the front nine, and that’s when I knew there was an opportunity.
“I started to play great golf. Making the eagle at 14 was the little kind of boost I needed. When I got it to five under, even though I was one behind I said to my caddie, ‘I feel like I’m two back the way the golf course is playing’. So I kept urging myself to try and make birdies.”
Rose even contemplated holing his second shot on the 18th, rekindling memories of the way he pitched in for a birdie on the 72nd hole at Birkdale in 1998.
“Yeah, it brought back memories for sure. The fact I had a wedge shot for my approach. I was thinking, can I do it again? I very nearly did.”
Francesco Molinari hopes his Open triumph can inspire the next generation after becoming the first Italian major champion.
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 Xander Schauffele.
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.
Asked how big his win would be back in Italy, Molinari joked: “It depends. If Ferrari won today they will probably get the headlines.
“It was large news this last run of form. To achieve something like this is on another level. Hopefully there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Costantino (Rocca) in 1995 coming so close to winning at St Andrews.”
Molinari won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May and was second in the Italian Open the following week, before following a tie for 25th in the US Open with an eight-shot victory in the Quicken Loans National and second place in the Travelers Championship.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 22, 2018
The 35-year-old only arrived in Carnoustie on Monday lunchtime and walked a few holes of a course where he missed the cut on his Open debut in 2007.
“It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t play the Dunhill Links (which uses Carnoustie as one of three courses) in the last few years because I got beaten up around here a few times already in the past,” Molinari added.
“I didn’t particularly enjoy that feeling. It’s a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There’s no way around it. You can’t really hide.
“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.
“To go the weekend bogey free, it’s unthinkable, to be honest. Playing with Tiger was another challenge because of the crowds and everything.
“But I felt really good this morning. When I came here, I felt I was ready for the challenge. Obviously conscious that it could have gone either way, but I knew I was going to do my best today.
“I’m lost for words really. Incredible to do something like this, and very proud of what I’ve done.”
The American began the final day with a share of the lead but had to settle for a tie for ninth place on four under, four strokes behind winner Francesco Molinari, after shooting 76.
The 24-year-old said: “I’m fine. When you put yourself in position it goes your way sometimes, it doesn’t go your way sometimes.
“It was going to be a tough day. You knew you’d have three, four good looks at birdies, and the rest of the holes, you were just going to try to position it to make par.
“I played patiently, put good swings on it. I never got down on myself, I never got angry. I just didn’t make a putt today.
“But my stroke is there. It’s back, which feels awesome, and my game all together is back.
“So, I’m actually very pleased coming out of this week. Obviously, there’s the disappointment of not getting the job done today but I’m not going to win every single time.”
Spieth burst onto the world scene by winning the Masters and the US Open in 2015 and he narrowly missed out on a play-off at the Open in the same year.
With his form now returning after missing the cut at last month’s US Open, he feels he can get back to and better those levels of three years ago.
He said: “I believe that my best golf has yet to come, absolutely, even better than 2015.
“I believe that going through struggles, you start to realise where your tendencies are and how to compensate for it and turn them into advantages. I think that I have that going for me.”
Spieth admitted he was unsettled when he and playing partner Xander Schauffele were put on the clock as a warning over slow play.
He said: “I handled it OK, but looking back, that was a turning point in the round. I really rushed the 10th and 11th holes when we were being timed.”