Francesco Molinari held his nerve in a titanic final day duel with Danny Willett to claim a historic victory at the Italian Open.
The home hero recorded a closing 65 to get to 22 under and beat Willett by one shot, so becoming the first Italian to win his national Open twice since the event became part of the European Tour in 1972.
The 2006 champion also became the first Italian to win any European Tour event twice, as he claimed his fourth win and his first since the 2012 Open de España.
Followed by an enormous gallery, he turned in 31 and held a four-shot lead with six holes to play; but Masters Tournament winner Willett is nothing if not resilient, following up a birdie on the 13th hole with an eagle on the next to cut the gap to one shot.
There were nervy moments from both players in the closing stretch, and Molinari was forced to produce a miraculous recovery shot from the trees after pushing his drive right from the 18th tee.
When Willett holed for par from 12 feet on the 18th green to sign for a round of 66, Molinari needed to follow him in from three feet and duly did so to become the second home player to win his national Open in as many weeks, following Joost Luiten’s victory at the KLM Open.
Spaniard Nacho Elvira and England’s Chris Paisley both secured their European Tour cards after finishing in a tie for third place on 18 under par, courtesy of respective rounds of 65 and 68.
The English duo of David Horsey (65) and Richard Bland (69) rounded out the top five after finishing on 16 under par.
Francesco Molinari: “It’s been a rollercoaster. It’s amazing to see this amount of people out here supporting me. I had the ideal start, I couldn’t have started any better. When I birdied the 12th I went four shots clear, and thought maybe I could relax a bit but then I got punished straight away. Coming in I had nothing left, I was just playing with my soul.”
“I was hitting some horrible shots, but somehow I managed to bring it in. It feels incredible, this win was so much harder than my first one in 2006. Back then there were no expectations, but this time was different. A lot of people thought I would win, and I didn’t want to let the fans down.”
Willett said, “It’s obviously disappointing to lose by one, but Frankie came flying out the blocks and made it very difficult for me to catch him. I managed to make it really interesting with the birdie on 13 and the eagle on 14, and at that point I thought I had a chance. But I hit a couple of loose shots on the way in, and fair play to Frankie because he played some great golf under unbelievable pressure.
“I’ve shot a 66 on the final day and finished on 21 under, so I can’t be too hard on myself because there’s not much more I could’ve down. Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and admit you got beat by the better player in the day.”