Italy's Francesco Molinari came up short in his bid for back-to-back wins and a third Italian Open as Thorbjorn Olesen held his nerve to claim the fifth European Tour title of his career.
- 22 Thorbjorn OlesenLee Slattery
- 21 Francesco Molinari
- 20 Lee Slattery
- 18 Rafa Cabrera Bello
Day four report
Italy's Francesco Molinari came up agonisingly short in his bid for back-to-back wins and a third Italian Open crown as Thorbjorn Olesen held his nerve to claim the fifth European Tour title of his career.
Olesen carded a flawless closing 64 at Gardagolf to finish 22 under par, a shot ahead of home favourite Molinari, who had won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last week.
The two players had been tied for the lead with two holes remaining, but Molinari followed four straight birdies by dropping just his second shot of the week on the 17th and Olesen birdied the same hole in the group behind to take a two-shot lead.
The Italian refused to throw in the towel and holed a curling birdie putt on the last from 40 feet to complete a 65 and pile on the pressure - but Olesen got up and down from a greenside bunker for par to secure the first prize of £874,000 in the second Rolex Series event of 2018.
"This is my first time coming from behind to win so that's very special to me," Olesen said after a victory which takes him just outside the automatic qualifying places for September's Ryder Cup, when fellow Dane Thomas Bjorn will captain the European side.
"I always wanted to come up the leaderboard and take the trophy. I've never had that putt on the last to win a tournament so that's why this one feels so amazing.
"I was standing on the [18th] tee and heard I was two in the lead, that's why I picked the 5-wood from the tee. I thought that would give me a good chance to make four and worse case I would make five, but I was standing there and saw that great putt he [Molinari] holed and that definitely put some pressure on me."
Molinari said: "I'm super happy to be honest. It's been an amazing week. I think I'll never forget the run of birdies today on the back nine. Obviously a shame about 17, but I can't complain.
"The putt on 18 was just unbelievable. It's not really a putt that you think about making, but in those circumstances you want to give it a chance. Sometimes there's just something in the air that makes special things happen."
England's Lee Slattery finished alone in third after a closing 67, despite having to get a replacement caddie after 13 holes after Max Cunningham was unable to continue.
"I hope he's all right," Slattery said. "He had a really bad back. Going up one of the hills he was struggling to breathe a little bit and we switched caddies, which affected me a little bit.
"I'd like to say not for his sake, but I do think it affected me a bit. I hit a poor drive off the next and I didn't hit many poor drives today. Just cost me a couple of shots and they were crucial at the end.
"But I'm delighted to finish 20 under par and third in a Rolex Series Event, that's a big stepping stone for me. To come here and play like I did and secure my rights for next year, there's so many things I've done this week in just one week."
Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello was fourth on 18 under with Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and Andy Sullivan a shot further back in a tie for fifth.
Day three report
England's Lee Slattery produced a sensational third-round 62 to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Italian Open.
Slattery arrived at Gardagolf in miserable form, having missed the cut at Wentworth a week ago when 146th of 150 players, but followed much-improved rounds of 66 and 69 with the best of his career on the European Tour.
Francesco Molinari and Thorbjorn Olesen share second on 15-under, one adrift of the leader, with former Masters champion Danny Willett continuing his own resurgence to sit two off the pace on a packed leaderboard.
Slattery started the day in 17th place, but an outward 30 saw him hit the front and five more birdies coming home helped him move to 16-under, despite a bogey at the short par-three 12th hole.
It will be the fifth time Slattery has held the 54-hole lead on the European Tour and first since last year's Czech Masters, where a closing 73 saw him finish runner-up, and he's a 13/2 chance to go one better here.
"It was very relaxing, playing with two good guys, Laurie Canter and Richard Sterne. (I) know them both quite well, and we just enjoyed it," Slattery said.
"When you get in that zone, you just keep making birdies. It's a great feeling.
"I'll just try and relax and just enjoy it tomorrow."
Chasing him on Sunday will be home favourite Molinari, who remains on course for a third win in the event and second in succession following last week's dominant display at Wentworth.
Molinari made his first bogey of the tournament when a wild tee-shot cost him a shot at the sixth hole, but birdied the next two to get back on track having entered round two as the favourite.
And favourite he will remain after a grandstand finish, his 20-foot birdie putt at the difficult 18th hole finding the bottom of the cup to rapturous applause. Sky Bet make Molinari a 9/4 chance.
Olesen was seven-under for the round through 14 holes only to play the last four in one-over, but nevertheless will head into the final round as arguably the biggest threat to Molinari at 5/1.
Willett also played the last four holes in one over but remains in the mix for his first title since the 2016 Masters, while alongside him Martin Kaymer will seek to end his own drought, one which extends back to the 2014 US Open.
Ian Poulter perhaps ought to have joined the pair on 14-under only to double-bogey the last but Andy Sullivan ended on a high, a three at the 18th ensuring he will go into the final round with a fighting chance just three off the lead.
Day two report
Martin Kaymer surged into contention for his first victory in four years as several of Europe's star names rediscovered their top form in the Italian Open.
Kaymer, whose last win brought him a second major title in the 2014 US Open, carded a second round of 63 at Gardagolf to finish 11 under par, a shot ahead of Graeme McDowell, Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and home favourite Francesco Molinari.
But after another day of low scoring, the entire field will be separated by just seven shots heading into the weekend, with the halfway cut falling at four under par.
"It's been a while since I played that solid," Kaymer said after a round which included five straight birdies from the 13th.
"I think I was getting very close recently but that positivity was missing on the golf course because I haven't had a lot of good results.
"It doesn't matter if you've won majors and had the situations I had at the Ryder Cup, it's really exciting to be in a position that you can win a golf tournament again."
McDowell's (pictured, above) last win came in 2015 and he was named as a Ryder Cup vice-captain last week, but the former US Open champion has not given up hope of qualifying for the team instead after missing out in 2016.
"My head will be down this weekend and I will be grinding really hard," McDowell said after a 66. "There's a lot of really great players in this field.
"I'll have to play well to win. It would do a lot for me, would do a lot for my summer, a lot for my Ryder Cup bid and a lot for my confidence in general."
Former Masters champion Willett reached a career-high of ninth in the world after claiming his first major title at Augusta National in 2016, but has since plummeted to 462nd after struggling with injuries and a loss of form.
The 30-year-old had missed the cut in all but one of his nine starts in 2018, but added a 67 to his opening 65 and has yet to drop a shot this week.
"I haven't made a cut for a while so to actually be this side of the leaderboard is pretty nice," Willett said.
"I've been working really hard and I've not been getting any results and you just have to keep your head down and hope that you get a couple of days like this under your belt."
Molinari's second consecutive error-free 66 means he has now gone 80 holes without a bogey, his last dropped shot coming on the 10th hole of the second round during his BMW PGA Championship victory at Wentworth.
"I'm trying not to think about it," insisted Molinari, who is seeking a third victory in his national Open.
"In the end, it's better to make a bogey and a few more birdies. I'm trying to stay aggressive and do my best.
"It's a course where a lot of people are up at the top of the leaderboard, so it's going to be I think a bit of a birdie-fest at the weekend and I need to be ready for it."
Day one report
Former Masters champion Danny Willett carded his lowest round of the season as he looks to halt his alarming slide down the world rankings in the Italian Open.
Willett reached a career-high of ninth in the world after claiming his first major title at Augusta National in 2016, but has since plummeted to 462nd after struggling with injuries and a loss of form.
The 30-year-old was forced to withdraw from his scheduled season opener in Abu Dhabi with a shoulder problem and has missed the cut in all but one of nine starts in 2018.
But on a day of low scoring at Gardagolf in Brescia, Willett compiled a bogey-free, six-under-par 65 to lie just two shots off the lead shared by fellow Englishmen Robert Rock and Laurie Canter and South Africa's Richard Sterne.
"It's been a while," Willett said after only his second round in the 60s this season. "We played really well and got the ball in play a lot which you have to do around here."
Willett teamed up with three of Italy's Paralympic golfers in the pre-tournament pro-am and added: "It was one of those days that just puts life into perspective when you see what this games does to bring people together.
"We golfers don't know how lucky we are sometimes and to have the experience I did in the pro-am was one of those days where you step back, realise how fortunate we are."
Rock was one over par after three holes, but carded nothing worse than a three in the next nine and a total of seven birdies and an eagle in his 63.
"I did well to bogey the second after two terrible tee shots, my provisional was in the water as well, but got on a run after that with all threes and twos for nine holes," Rock said. "I don't think I've ever done that."
The 41-year-old, who won the Italian Open in 2011, spends almost as much time coaching other players as working on his own game, but added: "It's probably a little more difficult when we come to a new venue, but generally I do all right.
"I was here Monday morning so I could do my work before Matt [Wallace, who shot 65] got here and I spent Tuesday with him."
Canter, who was a promising junior tennis player who once played Andy Murray, made the most of his late entry into the £5.2million event with six birdies and an eagle in a flawless 63.
"I got a call Sunday night saying you're into the event, which was a nice bonus," Canter said. "I was just putting some meat on the barbeque. I was over the moon.
"I was thinking I would travel as a reserve, but obviously to get in Sunday night and prepare Monday through Wednesday I was really, really excited and ready to go today."
BMW PGA Championship winner Francesco Molinari, Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell were among a large group of players on five under, with Ian Poulter four under and Tommy Fleetwood a shot further back.