Tiger Woods may have had to watch playing partner Francesco Molinari lift The Claret Jug after winning the British Open but all his rivals will have taken note of the American's return to form. Nothing bothered Molinari. When Tiger ran to the top of the leaderboard he never blinked.
"I'm lost for words", Molinari said after his 2-under-par 69 landed him at 8-under for the tournament, two shots ahead of a four-way logjam in second.
It caps a stunning stretch for the 15th-ranked Molinari, who has won on the PGA and European Tours in the previous two months.
His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa.
"This was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while", McIlroy said.
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He fell to 5 under, a stroke behind four players heading into the tough back nine. He was tied there with third round co-leader Kevin Kisner.
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At this time a year ago, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his auto, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.
"It is absolutely fantastic", Turin-born Molinari, who went bogey-free from the 17th hole of his second round, said. 6 player in the Official World Golf Rankings isn't still on the same path considering how he's found such a stellar game at this point in his career.
"I did everything the way I thought I needed to do it to win the championship". They only spent hours, on attractive spring and summer days, rapt by their televisions, thanks to Tiger.
Early on, though, that old familiar Tiger charge - missing for several years due to personal problems and back issues - seemed to be on the cards as the packed gallery appeared to energise him. They could taste it. With a wayward tee shot on 11, and a second that caromed off a spectator, Woods double bogeyed the 11th. Schauffele, Kisner, Spieth, Kevin Chappell and Molinari were also in the mix.
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After checking into the hotel behind Carnoustie's 18th green, England's Eddie Pepperell made fun of some of his fiery fellow players after spotting the club head used - presumably - as a towel holder.
As the two 24-year-olds and all others made their occasional messes, as at No. 6, Molinari made none. Woods' approach shot stopped 10 feet of the hole.
His 66 wasn't even the best of the day - Justin Rose shot 64, Jordan Spieth and Francesco Molinari 65s - but it likely was what fans were talking about when they left the course. Rose is No. 3 and almost joined them until he made an 18-foot birdie putt on the last hole to make the cut on the number. Molinari sunk his, giving him sole possession of the lead at eight under par.
A booming drive down 18 was followed by a clipped wedge to five feet and the putt was never anywhere else but the middle of the hole.
Earlier in the day, Woods had every reason to believe he would cap a most incredible comeback.
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