BMW PGA Championship: Molinari edges McIlroy at Wentworth

Francesco Molinari stared down Rory McIlroy and came away with the win at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship.

Francesco Molinari was so close for so long. The talented Italian has devoured Wentworth all his career, especially of late. Four top-fives in the last five years, including solo second in 2017, made Molinari one of the favorites this week at the BMW PGA Championship.

He finally broke through on Sunday and most definitely earned it. Molinari (-17) played the weekend in 66-68 to beat 36-hole leader and 54-hole co-leader, Rory McIlroy, by two.

Molinari’s 17-under-par winning score tied for the second lowest in the last decade.

A commanding lead coming down the stretch was only put into a bit of question for the volatile finish that is Wentworth’s two par-5 closing holes.

Molinari and McIlroy were in the final group together with Ross Fisher. Fisher was out of the equation, but an eagle-eagle finish for McIlroy could have cut into Molinari’s four-shot cushion.

McIlroy made birdie on No. 17 to cut it to three and had a good eagle look on the last that went by. A make would have made Molinari’s six-footer for par a lot more slippery.

“It was a match-play situation, but I just tried to do my own thing and to be honest, I was more uncomfortable at the finish with the lead,” Molinari said. “It’s never easy when you have to defend the lead, and obviously Rory could play pretty much free of any pressure because he just wanted to win and to come at me. So it was tough in the end. I felt like I was in control probably up until 15, 16, and then the last two holes, it was more digging in than anything else.”

Molinari was a bit conservative to close out the win. He was plenty more aggressive on the front nine with a bogey-free 32 on the front to surge by McIlroy.

For the week, Molinari finished fourth in driving accuracy (76.8%), 15th in driving distance (299.8), eighth in GIR (73.6%) and seventh in putts per round (27.3).

Based on world ranking points, this goes down as his second best career win behind the 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions.

Molinari’s now fourth on the European Tour Ryder Cup points list and should now be a lock for Paris.

Rory rebuffed

McIlroy scrambled well on Sunday to go out in level par but bogeys on Nos. 9-10 seemed to kill any realistic chances at earning his second BMW PGA Championship win.

“I felt like I hit better shots coming down the stretch this afternoon,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t get off to a good enough start and Francesco was three or four ahead of me after nine holes and it’s hard to claw that back whenever he’s playing the way he was.”

Rory fans can take solace in that their man looked great for 54 holes while battling swing tweaks.

He made 22 birdies on the week and posted a 15-under total that would have won four of the last six BMW PGA Championships.

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Chip shots

    • Lucas Bjerregaard (-14) continued his scorching play. He posted the co-low round of the tournament (65) twice en route to a T3. It was his third top-10 in a row seemingly out of nowhere after four missed cuts in a row and no finishes higher than T61 in 2018.
      • McIlroy and world No. 252 Jacques Kruyswijk also shot 65
    • Alex Noren (-14) defended his 2017 BMW PGA title with grace. The Swede picked up his third worldwide third-place finish of the year.
    • It wasn’t a great week for the home country of England. Matt Fitzpatrick and Ross Fisher (-10) tied for eighth. Fitzpatrick posted 67 on Sunday for a backdoor top-10 while Fisher could only muster a Sunday 71 in the final group. It doesn’t help that Englishman Justin Rose skipped the event and simultaneously won at the PGA Tour’s Fort Worth Invitational.
    • More notable finishes: T5. Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Branden Grace (-13); T20. Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey (-7); T27. Lee Westwood (-6); MC. Martin Kaymer (E); Danny Willett, Tyrrell Hatton, Paul Dunne (+2).
    • Next up: Francesco Molinari will try to revitalize after a draining win for his native Italian Open. The event is a Rolex Series event meaning a bigger purse/more Race to Dubai points. Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren and Ian Poulter will join a talented field at Gardagolf CC in Brescia, Italy.