MOLINARI OUTGUNS MCILROY TO CLAIM PGA TITLE
Italy’s Francesco Molinari moved into contention for a return to Ryder Cup duties following an impressive weekend’s front-running display at Wentworth, where he captured the BMW PGA Championship by two shots from fan favourite Rory McIlroy.
The unflappable 35-year-old shot a final round 68 to finish on 17 under par and hold off a host of challengers, including 2015 champion McIlroy and last year’s winner, Alex Noren, who shot a closing 67 to finish in a share of third with Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard, who fired a joint best-of-the-week 65.
Molinari’s previous two appearances in the Ryder Cup have resulted in victories for Europe, so team captain Thomas Bjorn will be hoping that the ice cool Italian keeps his form up over the summer’s big events.
Molinari has played an entirely PGA Tour-based campaign up until now, so will need to get among the points in the other Rolex events if he is to build on his Ryder Cup caps in Paris come September. It’s worth noting that hei is a three-time runner up in the French Open, so his course form around Paris National is among the best there is.
“It’s on a course I love and where I have almost as good a record as I have here, so I’d love to be there,” said Molinari, after picking up the prestigious PGA title – and the near €1m prize money that came with it. “Unfortunately my last really good week up until now was in August last year, just before the start of the Ryder Cup qualification period. I didn’t even look at the standings after that, to be honest. I don’t know where I was in the table, but it’s not nice seeing that you’re a long way back. So I tried to focus on other things. Now I’ll probably have a look and enjoy it, but there’s a long way to go.”
Four days earlier, Molinari had opened the PGA Championship with a bogey, but, on a course which carries recurring danger, managed to drop only one further shot for the remaining 71 holes, with his trademark straight driving and precision iron play serving him well on a course that favours those who keep out of trouble.
If five previous top-10s at Wentworth, including second place last year, suggested the 35-year-old had a fondness for the West Course, there was a blissful simplicity attached to his securing of victory.
Until the very last hole, where McIlroy left an eagle putt agonisingly short, there looked no chance at all of Molinari wilting in front of his illustrious playing partner. McIlroy, who looked in fine form over the opening two rounds, which took him to 12 under par, was well short of his best over the weekend, and went round in a 71 and 70 to finish in a tie for second. Hitting irons off many tees, the Northern Irishman still managed to find himself out of position on numerous innocuous holes, and then put pressure on his short game to rescue the situation, with his putter proving to be good cop and bad cop in equal measure.
Starting day four in a tie for the lead with McIlroy, Molinari was unphased by the virtual match play situation, and calmly went about his business, while McIlroy missed shots left and right, and clearly looked ill at ease with his swing.
“I’m old enough now that I’ve played in probably tougher circumstances even than today, playing against Tiger Woods in the Ryder Cup and stuff like that,” Molinari said. “Rory is a great guy. I didn’t feel intimidated at all. The last couple of holes, he’s basically thinking eagle, eagle. I’m thinking par, par, and that makes the whole difference.”
Speaking about the win, Molinari added: “If I could pick one tournament to win in my career it would be this one. I’ve been so close so many times, so to finally get over the line is amazing. I can’t wait to be back next year. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy with Rory today, he probably didn’t play his best, but I still knew he was going to charge back the last few holes, so I was glad that I managed to just hold on.”
McIlroy, who now heads to Ohio for this week’s Memorial Tournament, before moving on to the US Open, said: “I’m disappointed I didn’t play better over the weekend. I was in a great position after two days, struggled yesterday, and sort of struggled today as well. I just couldn’t get it going. I let Francesco get a few shots ahead on me, and I just couldn’t claw that back. It’s disappointing, I put myself in a position and I didn’t get the job done. That’s not taking anything away from Francesco. He played a great weekend and bogey-free around here is some playing. He deserved the win.”
LEADERBOARD (TOP 10)
-17 F MOLINARI
-15 R MCILROY
-14 L BJERREGAARD, A NOREN
-13 K APHIBARNRAT, B GRACE
-12 D FICHARDT
-10 R CABRERA BELLO, R FISHER, M FITZPATRICK, T JAIDEE