WENTWORTH-Italy’s Francesco Molinari won the PGA Championship at Wentworth on Sunday as fellow overnight leader Rory McIlroy failed to sparkle in the final round.

The 35-year-old Italian made up for his disappointment at finishing runner-up in last year’s event with a steady round of four-under-par 68 to close on 17 under par and a total of 271. Molinari said he hadn’t been affected by having McIlroy in his final group in what he said was the biggest win of his career. “To be honest I’m old enough and played in tougher circumstances like Tiger Woods at the Ryder Cup,” he said. “Rory is a great guy but he doesn’t intimidate me. “I showed today that I can do everything as well as the best players in the world.”

He became the third Italian to triumph at the PGA — title he said is in Italian golfers’ hearts — following those of Costantino Rocca in 1996, the final day of which he said he watched after getting back from school as it was then on a Monday, and Matteo Manassero in 2013.  McIlroy never looked at ease and the bounce had gone out of his step several holes from the clubhouse although two birdies on the final two holes saw him still card a 70 to finish runner-up, two shots shy of Molinari. “I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead, I should have closed it out this week,” admitted McIlroy, who had a three-shot lead at the halfway stage.

McIlroy, the winner here in 2014 but who had also missed the cut on four occasions, and Molinari had started the day with a four-shot cushion over the rest of the field. However, where Molinari was unflappable and played steadily, picking up birdies to keep the pack at bay, McIlroy was unable to do the same. His travails at the 10th summed up his day as he failed to chip onto the green from just off it and recorded his first bogey on the back nine all week.

A rueful smile a few holes later when a birdie chance went begging and a constant bundle of energy in lifting his cap and rubbing his head was a very different picture of the golfer who had played such a sublime round of 65 on Friday that then-playing partner Alex Noren quipped he had thought of quitting.  An eagle chance on the final hole and with Molinari in danger of dropping a shot gave him an unlikely glimmer of hope, but the eagle attempt went just short and he dropped to his knees with his head in his hands. “You don’t want to know what I was thinking!” smiled Molinari.

The Italian made no mistake though with the par putt and got showered in champagne as he left the green. McIlroy, who heads off back to the United States for the Memorial Tournament, said Molinari deserved his victory with the final scores making it look closer than it really was. “He played a great weekend and bogey-free around here is some playing,” said McIlroy. With McIlroy failing to put the pressure on Molinari it was left to defending champion Noren to try and repeat last year’s extraordinary feat when he carded a 62 to come from well off the pace and deny Molinari. However, this time the Italian kept things under control and the Swede ran out of momentum, with the consolation of a rich pay day for finishing joint-third and potentially invaluable points towards qualification for the Ryder Cup team.

There was a Noren-like charge though from Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard as the first-round leader bounced back from dropping a shot on the first to post eight birdies and his second 65 of the week to finish 14-under, level with Noren, and confirm his good form of recent weeks.

 

Italy’s Francesco Molinari poses with the winner’s trophy.–AFP