Francesco Molinari atoned for a series of near-misses at Wentworth as a composed final-round 68 earned him a two-shot victory over Rory McIlroy at the BMW PGA Championship.
BMW PGA Championship
Molinari came into the week with five top-10 finishes in the last six years, including a runner-up finish 12 months ago, but he finally got over the line in impressive style as he completed 72 holes with only two bogeys on his card – and none over the weekend – to post a winning score of 17 under par.
Rory McIlroy was again unable to recapture his imperious form of the first two rounds, closing with a frustrating 70 which at least earned him outright second ahead of a fast-finishing Lucas Bjerregaard, who made a late run with a superb 65 featuring eight birdies.
Alex Noren’s bid to become only the fourth player to successfully defend the title came up just short, but the Swede, who’s sensational final-day 62 last year was one of the rounds of the season, can be proud of his week’s efforts after a 67 lifted him into a share of third with Bjerregaard.
But the day, and the week, belonged to Molinari as he defied the pressure of playing alongside fan-favourite McIlroy and former Wentworth member Ross Fisher, plotting his way meticulously around the West Course and avoiding the costly mistakes that his rivals couldn’t.
The 35-year-old, who will be full of confidence next week as he bids for a third win on home soil at the Italian Open, started the final day tied for the lead with McIlroy, but he settled any early nerves with a solid par-par start before jumping clear of the field with birdies at the third and fourth.
Molinari missed another good chance from six feet at the seventh, but his sound tee-to-green game set up a further chance at the next which he converted to make it a clean sweep of birdies for the week on that hole.
With none of the chasing pack able to mount a sustained challenge, Molinari also picked up his fourth birdie of the week at the long 12th, and he continued to hit fairways and greens as he settled for a stress-free run of pars.
He endured a nervy moment coming up the last when, after laying up, he appeared to catch his third a little heavy and his ball came uncomfortably close to ending up in the water hazard, eventually settling in the fringe with McIlroy lining up and eagle putt from 25 feet.
But after he putted up to three feet, McIlroy’s putt to apply full pressure pulled up an inch short and Molinari rattled in the par putt to secure his fifth European Tour title in his 310th appearance, and become the third Italian to win at Wentworth following Matteo Manassero and Costantino Rocca.
McIlroy again looked at odds with his swing from the moment he carved his opening tee shot into the gallery at the first and, although he did well to scramble a par, he was unable to keep pace with his playing-partner as he opened with seven straight pars.
The 2014 champion gave a glimmer of hope to his army of supporters outside the ropes when he matched Molinari’s birdie at the eighth, but he failed to get up and down from the back of the ninth green before another misfire with iron in hand led to a wayward tee shot to the 10th which resulted in another dropped shot.
Lucas Bjerregaard enjoyed a superb finish to the BMW PGA as he fired an eight-birdie 65 to surge into contention at Wentworth.
McIlroy stayed four behind with a birdie at the 12th, but a birdie at 17 merely reduced the deficit to three strokes coming up the 72 hole, and leaving his eagle putt short on the final green summed up his weekend as he closed on 15 under par.
Bjerregaard enjoyed best finish on the European Tour since winning his maiden title in Portugal last September, recovering from an opening bogey with three straight birdies before reeling off four in a row to start the back nine.
European Tour Golf
May 28, 2018, 4:00pm
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But, needing a finish to rival Noren’s 12 months ago, the Dane added only one further gain at the 17th as he set the clubhouse target at 14 under which was still three adrift of Molinari as he signed his card.