CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- The moments that are so crucial inside the ropes can be excruciating for those on the outside. Several, perhaps dozens, of those played out Sunday for Francesco Molinari, as he produced the round of his life to win The Open and become the first Italian to win a major championship.
One of those instances occurred at Carnoustie's 13th hole Sunday, as Molinari was not only dealing with one of the most feared links in the world, but also the presence of Tiger Woods, who brings along a kind of commotion that is unnerving at best and a part of every round of golf he plays.
Another tough par putt went down, keeping Molinari in a tie for the lead -- much to the relief of his wife, Valentina, who behind the green made a quiet fist pump to those she was with in a gesture that she had every reason to repeat often.
Starting the day one shot ahead of Woods and three behind leaders Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, Molinari never flinched, time after time hitting the proper shot, making up for any mistakes, staying patient until it was time to pounce.
He never made a bogey, and he hoisted the Claret Jug in the presence of Woods, whose own spirited run to a 15th major title had Scotland in full throat.
"Playing with Tiger was a challenge because of the crowds and everything,'' said Molinari, who birdied two of the final five holes. "Tiger himself was great today, really good sportsmanship with me. Obviously, there's a lot more people if you're grouped with him. I've done it before. I've played with him before in the Ryder Cup and in big occasions, so I knew what was coming and I was ready for it.''
What came was what usually is the case with Woods: chaos. Throngs of spectators, an abundance of photographers, officials and media inside the ropes, constant clamoring in the gallery, shouts of encouragement, people moving on to the next hole after Woods putts out.
None of that fazed Molinari.
He became the first major winner since Steve Elkington won the PGA Championship in 1995 to play the final 36 holes without a single score over par. His last bogey came on the 17th hole Friday.
"He played really solid today,'' Woods said. "[He] hit a couple off shots, but winning it definitely was his short game. He chipped it beautifully. He made a couple of putts here and there for par, but to get it to where it was basically kick-in from some of the spots he put himself was pretty impressive. Great touch. You could see him actually try and hit a couple with cut spin, a couple with draw spin. He was working the ball around the greens, and that was cool to see.''
Woods is plenty familiar with Molinari, drawing him in Ryder Cup singles in 2010 (a Woods victory) and 2012 (a last-match halve in which Woods conceded on the final green), as well as three weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National, where Molinari won by 8 strokes -- and Tiger was there to hand him the trophy as tournament host.
Perhaps people should have seen this coming. Molinari has been on an incredible run of late, winning the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship, before finishing second at the Italian Open, winning the Quicken Loans and then tying for second at last week's John Deere Classic.
And a good bit of it can be traced to improved putting. Always a "flusher,'' a pure ball-striker who can hit all the shots, Molinari at times was plagued by poor work on the greens.
He began practicing with UK-based instructor Paul Kenyon earlier this year, and the results have been pronounced -- and a far cry from what he told Wesley Bryan late last fall when they played together at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.
Bryan took to Twitter on Sunday to share what he learned from Molinari back then. And it sure didn't sound like a guy intent on winning a major championship, as he described having a plan to retire in a few years.
Well, not exactly. Molinari, 35, who is from Turin, Italy, but lives in London, now has many other things to look forward to if he so chooses in the game of golf. All the exemptions and spots in majors for years to come. And he's now ranked sixth in the world.
"With how he's played this year, there's just maybe a little more belief,'' said Rory McIlroy who tied for second. "I played with him the final day at Wentworth [BMW PGA in May], where he won, and he didn't miss a shot. He's a fantastic golfer. He's a great guy. Well deserved.''
After making birdie on Carnoustie's 18th, Molinari could not bear to watch. Schauffele was the only player who had a chance to tie him. Perhaps for the first time all day, the calmness Molinari exhibited throughout on the course turned to nervousness.
He credited his wife for dealing so well with the uneasiness he felt at that time. So he went to the place he felt most comfortable -- the putting green, where he awaited word that he was the Champion Golfer of the Year.
"It's just disbelief,'' he said. "To look at the names on that Claret Jug. What can you say? It's the best golfers in history, and to be on there, it's incredible. From someone like me, coming from Italy, not really a major golfing country, it's been an incredible journey.''