Thorbjorn Olesen holds off Francesco Molinari to win in Italy
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 03/06/18 6:26pm
Thorbjorn Olesen denied Francesco Molinari back-to-back wins as he held his nerve to clinch a thrilling one-shot victory at the Italian Open.
Olesen closed with a bogey-free 64 and made four birdies in six holes down the stretch to open up a two-shot lead, which was halved when Molinari drained a huge 50-foot putt for birdie on the final hole.
The Dane pulled his final drive into a tricky lie in the left rough and blocked his second into a greenside bunker, but he splashed out to seven feet and rattled in the winning putt to secure his fifth European Tour title, and his first since the Turkish Airlines Open in November, 2016.
Overnight leader Lee Slattery made a late run with an eagle at 15 and a birdie at 17 after his challenge was disrupted by having to change caddies on the back nine following an injury to his regular bagman, but he would have to settle for outright third - two shots behind Olesen.
European stalwarts Lee Westwood had earlier enjoyed excellent final rounds to give encouragement to the late groups that the Gardagolf course was there for the taking, with Westwood claiming the early clubhouse lead on 17 under with a flawless 63.
He was soon joined by his fellow Ryder Cup vice-captain McDowell, who made five birdies in six holes after the turn as he closed with a 64, but it was abundantly clear that 17 under would not be enough to trouble the leaders.
Olesen jockeyed for the lead with playing-partner Slattery over the front nine, and the pair were level at the turn as the Dane cruised to an outward 32 with Slattery recovering from a bogey at the second with birdies at the third, seventh and ninth.
But Slattery then parred the first four holes on the back nine and bogeyed 14 to drop off the pace, while Olesen birdied 12 and 13 just as Molinari thrilled his home fans and stormed into the mix with four consecutive birdies from the 13th.
Olesen replied with a birdie at 15, where Slattery vaulted back into contention with a brilliant eagle, and Molinari then made a crucial error at the 17th as he made only his second bogey of the tournament.
Slattery and Olesen both made classy threes at the penultimate hole, and Molinari's hopes of finishing with a flourish looked unlikely when his second from the left rough at 18 pitched and stopped around 50 feet from the flag.
But last week's BMW PGA champion raised the roof as his lengthy putt arced straight into the cup, and a play-off looked increasingly likely with Olesen in the right bunker facing a difficult escape down the hill.
However, his delicate splash-out pulled up seven feet past the hole and, after Slattery had missed from 15 feet for birdie to join Molinari on 21 under, Olesen wasted little time in nailing his par putt to end the contest.