Francesco Molinari snatches one-shot win over Danny Willett at Italian Open
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 19/09/16 11:09am
Francesco Molinari delighted the home fans in Monza as he held his nerve to clinch a dramatic one-shot victory over Danny Willett at the Italian Open.
Willett piled the pressure on the crowd favourite when he birdied the 13th and eagled the next to close to within a shot of the leader, but he was unable to better par over the last four holes as Molinari produced a stunning save on the 72nd.
The 33-year-old blocked his final drive way right into the trees, but he managed to carve a superb, low long-iron onto the front of the green before rolling in a nerve-shattering four-foot putt to card a 65 and seal his first European Tour title in over four years.
Molinari had earlier holed from a greenside bunker to close out a third round 64, while Willett had 10 holes to complete when play was suspended due to darkness on Saturday and carded three birdies on the back nine to return a flawless 67 and tie the Italian for the lead on 16 under.
But the Masters champion soon found himself trailing by two when Molinari powered his second to 15 feet at the long opening hole and nailed the putt for birdie, and he added another from five feet at the next after Willett had holed a good putt for a three.
Willett halved the deficit with a sublime approach to within inches of the pin at the fourth, only for Molinari to prompt wild celebrations from the vast galleries as he birdied the sixth before a delightful pitch at the ninth set up another gain which swept him three clear at the turn.
The Englishman spurned a great chance to claw one back at the 11th when he missed from three feet, and Molinari extended his advantage to four with another pure iron to six feet at the next and a perfect putt.
But the two-time Ryder Cup star faltered on the 13th when he came up short with his approach and failed to get up and down after Willett had made his birdie, and Molinari's lead was trimmed to one despite a birdie at the par-five next as Willett smote a stunning second to 12 feet and holed the putt for a three.
The pair traded pars over the next three holes and both missed the fairway at the last, but Molinari made light of having no direct path to the green as he produced a brilliant low fade from behind a tree, and his ball took a kindly kick to avoid the front-left bunker and bounded onto the putting surface.
Molinari lagged to four feet and looked likely to have two putts for the win, but Willett ramped up the pressure when he salvaged a par-four with a delightful putt from 15 feet to card a 66 and complete 72 holes with just a single bogey.
But Molinari was up to the task, his tricky putt dropping in the left side of the cup to earn him his second home title, 10 years after he made his European Tour breakthrough at Castello di Tolcinasco.
Halfway leader Chris Paisley boosted his chances of retaining his playing rights for next season as he closed with a 68 - his fourth sub-70 round of the week - to earn a share of third place on 18 under with Nacho Elvira.
David Horsey produced the best finish of the day, making birdies at five of the last six holes to return a 65 which lifted him to 16 under alongside compatriot Richard Bland, who fired a solid three-birdie 69.
Tommy Fleetwood made it five Englishmen in the top 10 as he rolled in seven birdies and kept a bogey off his card in a best-of-the-day 64, with Scotland's Scott Jamieson joining him on 15 under after a 67.