Emotional Molinari edges Willett in Monza thriller
HOME favourite Francesco Molinari held off the challenge of Masters champion Danny Willett to win a second Italian Open in dramatic style.
The two men had to return to complete their third rounds yesterday morning after torrential rain and thunderstorms had led to delays on days one and two and they began round four locked together at the top of the leaderboard on 16 under.
The Italian made an eagle-birdie start and looked like he was going to run away with it in front of a loud and partisan crowd when he opened up a four-shot lead stood on the 13th tee.
Willett is made of stern stuff, though, and he showed all the fighting qualities he will need when he tees it up for Europe at the Ryder Cup in 12 days’ time, birdieing the 13th and hitting a stunning second shot to 12 feet to eagle the next. Both players hit poor tee-shots on the last as the nerves began to show and, when Molinari hit an excellent cut from behind a tree with Willett still 130 yards short of the green, the game looked to be up.
But Willett showed once again why he will return to the top 10 in the world when the rankings are released today, holing a clutch putt from 12 feet for par and leaving Molinari a nervy putt for victory.
For 2006 champion Molinari, it was a first win since 2012 and he was visibly emotional on the 18th green.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” he said. “It’s amazing to see this amount of people out here supporting me. I had the ideal start, I couldn’t start any better. When I birdied 12 I got four shots [clear] and thought maybe I could relax a bit and I got punished straight away. Coming in I had nothing left, I was just playing with my soul.
“I was hitting horrible shots, but somehow I managed to bring it in.”
This was Willett’s final round of competitive golf before he faces the United States at Hazeltine and the 28-year-old believes coming up against such a ferocious home crowd will hold him in good stead. “I’m sure it’s going to be 100 times worse when we get to the Ryder Cup in America, but it’s been a little bit of a taster,” he said.
“It’s been good to play under that pressure and be under the gun and be in contention. If you finish a golf tournament 21 under par and you lose, I don’t think you can be too disheartened about it.”
Englishman Chris Paisley finished tied for third at 18 under, two shots ahead of countrymen Richard Bland and David Horsey. Another Englishman, Tommy Fleetwood, was at 15 under with Scotland’s Scott Jamieson.