Molinari fails to match Open hopes as Carnoustie champion goes under Portrush radar

Francesco Molinari accepted he let high expectations affect his golf as he failed to mount a serious challenge in his Open Championship title defence.

After a sublime first major triumph at Carnoustie 12 months ago, Molinari went on to play a starring role for Europe in their Ryder Cup triumph.

He added the Arnold Palmer Invitational title in March of this year, while also finishing fifth at the Masters.

The popular Italian arrived at Royal Portrush with hopes of another strong performance but made the cut with nothing to spare and only in Sunday's final round did he show his true prowess.

A closing 66 moved Molinari to three under for the tournament, but while the struggles of others in tough conditions pushed him up the leaderboard later in the day he was never in contention.

"In general it was obviously not what I was hoping for. But at the same time I think it's understandable, it's never easy to defend the championship, and especially so in a major," he said.

"It's been an interesting week. Obviously it gave me a sense of closure coming back here and defending and getting the week done. And I'm happy the way I played today. Hopefully next time I'll be mentally more ready to defend another major.

"My preparation was really good. In a way that harmed me because the expectation went up. I didn't do a good enough job of just really enjoying the week, staying calm, enjoying the emotions that I felt through every day.

"It's been hard but I was expecting a hard week. I wasn't expecting to win again. I was expecting to maybe play better. And I think myself and all my team, we're seeing how good I was playing and we were expecting a lot."

Molinari, 36, said he had "massively" enjoyed his year as Open champion.

"I think obviously it's going to sound obvious, it's better to win one year and play badly the other year, rather than finishing fifth both years," he added. "So I'll take that and I'll take the experience from this week and try to learn from it."

As for whether the course has lived up to expectations, with Northern Ireland staging the tournament for the first time since 1951, Molinari was in no doubt about Royal Portrush justifying its place on the Open rota.

"The greatest compliment I think is all the feedback that I've heard from the players has been positive and especially on a links course that's not something you hear every year," he said.

"That's been great. The crowds obviously have been amazing. Hopefully we will be back in the near future."

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