BMW PGA Championship: Francesco Molinari claims title

Last Updated May 27 2018, 16:59Golf
Francesco Molinari celebrates with the trophy
Francesco Molinari celebrates with the trophy

Italy's Francesco Molinari finally got his hands on the BMW PGA Championship trophy as Rory McIlroy's bid for a second title came up short.

Day four report

Italy's Francesco Molinari finally got his hands on the BMW PGA Championship trophy as Rory McIlroy's bid for a second title came up short.

Molinari carded a closing 68 to finish 17 under par and two shots ahead of playing partner McIlroy, with defending champion Alex Noren and Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard a shot further back.

Molinari, whose second place 12 months ago was his fifth top 10 at Wentworth in the last six years, began the day in a tie for the lead with McIlroy but quickly moved clear with birdies on the third, fourth and eighth and never looked like being caught until some late drama on the final hole.

Three ahead playing the 18th, Molinari's third shot to the green almost span back into the water and his fourth left him facing five feet for par, with McIlroy 20 feet away for eagle.

However, McIlroy agonisingly left his attempt inches short and Molinari held his nerve to hole out for par, meaning he had dropped just two shots all week, the last coming on the 10th hole of the second round.

The impressive win will take the 35-year-old back inside the world's top 20 and within sight of securing a third Ryder Cup appearance in September.

McIlroy had enjoyed a three-shot lead at halfway, but struggled to a 71 on Saturday and rescued a 70 on Sunday with birdies on the last two holes.

"It feels amazing," Molinari said. "I've been close so many times. I think if I could pick one tournament to win in my career it would be this one. To finally get over the line feels amazing and it wasn't easy. I made it probably more interesting than it should have been.

"Obviously I was hoping Rory wouldn't make his putt because I wasn't fancying mine after all that hard work today, but thankfully I holed it anyway."

Asked about the prospects of a third Ryder Cup appearance at a venue where he has finished runner-up three times in the French Open, Molinari added: "I was too far too back to seriously think about it until this week, but now it's there and on a course that I love and where I have almost as good a record as I do here. I would love to be there."

McIlroy had enjoyed a three-shot lead at halfway following rounds of 67 and 65, but struggled to a 71 on Saturday and rescued a 70 on Sunday with birdies on the last two holes.

The 29-year-old had worked on changes to his swing since missing the cut in the Players Championship and said: "I think when you're working through a bit of a swing change or a swing tweak, it takes more than a week's work to try to bed it in and this is my first competitive start since trying to rectify things.

"It's close, it's very close. I've given myself a great chance here this week. I didn't quite pull it off but it's not far away. I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high and with a 36-hole lead I should have closed it out.

"It's disappointing but 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. I just need to do a little bit more work and I'm looking forward to getting right back at it at Memorial next week."

Day three report

Rory McIlroy admitted he rode his luck after hitting two spectators and a marshal in an eventful 71 which kept him on course for a second BMW PGA Championship title.

McIlroy took a three-shot lead into the third round at Wentworth and was an odds-on favourite to win the £5.2million event at European Tour headquarters, but struggled to get to grips with a swirling wind which made scoring difficult.

The four-time major winner was already one over par for the day when he attempted a risky recovery shot on the sixth following a wayward tee shot, but succeeded only in crashing his ball into the crowd and hitting a young woman directly on her right hand.

As she received treatment, McIlroy went on to run up a double bogey six and fall out of the lead, but he bounced back immediately with a birdie on the seventh and picked up further shots on the 12th, 17th and 18th.

McIlroy's second shot on the 17th clipped a marshal who was also hit by playing partner Sam Horsfield, but it was the Northern Irishman's errant drive on the 18th which did the real damage, hitting a woman on the head and drawing blood.

Asked why he had not shouted the traditional warning of 'fore', McIlroy said: "I didn't think it was going to carry that far. It was into the wind and it's 275 (yards) to the bunker with a three wood. I thought it was going to pitch in the bunker so I didn't think anyone was in danger.

"When you see blood, the one on 18 shook me a little bit but she reassured me she was okay. It's never nice. I remember playing the final round here in 2014 and Pablo Larrazabal hit a lady on the left-hand side of 11 and basically didn't hit a shot for the rest of the round.

"It's tough. You can say sorry and maybe give them a glove but that's not going to do anything for them. I'm just thankful my ball didn't go where it was heading and I just hope they're okay.

"I got lucky today, I got very fortunate. I got good bounces off spectators and I rode my luck and I'm just going to have to play better to have a chance."

On 13 under par, McIlroy shares the lead with former Ryder Cup team-mate Francesco Molinari, whose 66 was the lowest score of the day by two shots.

Molinari was runner-up to Alex Noren 12 months ago and has recorded four other top-10 finishes at Wentworth in the last six years, but was not about to take anything for granted.

"I am going to be ready. I am going to do my best, obviously whatever is in my control," Molinari said. "There are a lot of really, really good players up there so it won't be easy, but I need to do what I did today, just keep in the moment and hit shot by shot and see if that will be enough."

The leading pair are four shots ahead of Noren, Horsfield - who shot 72 after being four over par for the first 10 holes - Ross Fisher and Branden Grace, with Lee Westwood among a four-strong group on eight under.

Westwood is trying to win the title for the first time at the 25th attempt, although he did win the World Match Play title at the same venue in 2000.

Asked what it would mean to do so at the age of 45, Westwood joked: "It would mean there's a picture of me at Wentworth with a few less chins. I came very close in 2011 and Luke Donald pipped me in a play-off but this course seems to suit my game."

Westwood's last competitive round before this week was a 76 in the Houston Open on March 31 and not being eligible for the Masters the following week prompted him to take a lengthy break.

"I didn't think my game would be so sharp but I'm an old dog with old tricks and they are never far away," added Westwood, who was named a Ryder Cup vice-captain by European skipper Thomas Bjorn at the start of the week.

Francesco Molinari at Wentworth
Francesco Molinari saves par at the last

Day two report

Defending champion Alex Noren hailed "the best round I've ever seen" after playing partner Rory McIlroy took command of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

Noren carded a course record of 62 in the final round last year, but was nevertheless happy to heap praise on McIlroy's flawless 65, which gave the four-time major winner a halfway total of 12 under par and a three-shot lead over England's Sam Horsfield and France's Sebastien Gros.

"That's the best round I've ever seen. I'm about to quit golf I think," said Noren, whose own 68 left him five shots off the pace on seven under alongside Robert Rock and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

"It's hard to draw off it when it's that good. It's tough because it's almost like you're trying to play better than you need to when you see that. I really wanted to get the honour and be first on the tee and then you don't have to hit after that 330-yard driver or 300-yard three-wood."

McIlroy's more measured assessment reflected the fact that he missed good chances on the first three holes and failed to birdie the 17th and 18th, both par fives, for the second day in succession.

"There's still a couple of loose shots in there, like the one on 18 (which plugged in a greenside bunker), but overall it was a great round of golf," McIlroy said after matching his career-low score at Wentworth, although a previous 65 in 2009 was before the course changes the following year.

"I had everything sort of firing today and it was nice to take advantage of the opportunities I gave myself. All you ask for is giving yourself a chance every week.

"I could go out and shoot two 65s at the weekend and get beaten so you can't expect to win. All I expect to do is go out and control what I can control. Every tournament is a big tournament but the more I can play well and the more confidence I can build going into those majors the better."

McIlroy - Sky Bet's 4/7 favourite at halfway - got the ball rolling with a birdie on the par-five fourth, before picking up further shots on the seventh and ninth to reach the turn in 32.

The 29-year-old then rattled off four birdies in succession on the back nine and was five shots clear before Horsfield fired four birdies in five holes from the 12th.

The Orlando-based 21-year-old, who is a protege of Ian Poulter, gained his European Tour card by winning Qualifying School by eight shots last year and has already recorded two top-four finishes in his rookie season.

"I think any time you're playing on the weekend and you're up there near Rory, I think you're going to be doing pretty well," Horsfield said. "Whoever I end up playing with I'm going to go out there and give it my all.

"I've lived in America since I was five but I do feel English and there's no doubt who I'd play for in the Ryder Cup. It's pretty cool to be able to play in an event like this."

European number one Tommy Fleetwood birdied the last three holes to shoot 66 and lie four shots off the lead, while playing partner Poulter did the same in his 67 to finish three under.

Day one report

Former champion Rory McIlroy found the spark he was looking for with his best ever opening round in the BMW PGA Championship, despite a final hole which was far from picture perfect.

McIlroy was distracted by a trigger-happy photographer on his second shot to the par-five 18th at Wentworth and needed a lucky bounce off a tree to avoid going out of bounds.

If looks could kill the photographer would have been in jeopardy - "I wouldn't say dead," McIlroy joked afterwards - and after almost holing the resulting pitch for an eagle, McIlroy's mood was hardly improved by missing from three feet for a birdie.

However, a five-under-par 67 was still one shot better than he managed in the first round on his way to victory in 2014, with Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard setting the clubhouse target on seven under, a shot ahead of the South African duo of Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

"It's a tough enough golf shot without something going off at the top of your swing, but it happens," McIlroy said of the incident on the 18th, for which he received a swift apology from the photographer. "It's fine. I'm sure he didn't mean to do it.

"I'm a little frustrated I couldn't get a birdie or two out of the last couple of holes, but overall it's a really good start. I played a lot better than I have done the last couple of weeks.

"I saw some good shots out there, better drives, and putted well for the most part. If I can just do more of the same over the next three days, I should have a decent chance."

McIlroy was joined on five under par by Ryder Cup team-mate Matt Fitzpatrick and fellow Englishman Richard Bland, whose effort was witnessed by his brother Heath as he recovers from a life-threatening illness which saw him placed in an induced coma for a month at the end of last year.

Bland, who is seeking a first European Tour title at the 433rd attempt, said: "It's going to take some more time but he's on the road to recovery. We were a close family anyway but this has brought us even closer.

"He thought he had the flu and was just feeling a bit rough, but it turned out he had a virus which stopped his heart and they had to put him in an induced coma. It knocked us for six, especially as it was over Christmas.

"I'm certainly not going to make excuses for my golf [he has missed five straight cuts] but it was not easy, especially at the start of the year, but it certainly puts things into perspective. Even though I've had a tough time on the course, it's really not that bad."

Fitzpatrick admitted he is enjoying the comforts of home after spending much of the season on the PGA Tour, but knows the pressure is now on to secure a second consecutive Ryder Cup appearance.

Points earned from now on are multiplied by 1.5 and the 23-year-old from Sheffield, who is just outside the automatic qualifying places, said: "That makes it a little bit exciting. I think it will be interesting come the end of all the points to see what the team is.

"If you throw in one or two unlikely winners it could skew things a little bit. It probably puts pressure on the boys that are kind of expected to make the team because they've got to play well."

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