Buoyed by a passionate home gallery, Francesco Molinari overcame some nervous moments over the closing holes to snatch the Italian Open by a shot from Masters Champion Danny Willett.
The home town favourite carded a closing round 65 to reach 22 under and defeat a fighting Willett by one stroke to become the first Italian player to win his national Open twice since the championship joined the European Tour in 1972.
Molinari, who shared the 54-hole lead with Willett at 16 under, attracted the lion’s share gallery support on the final day and he didn’t disappoint. He opened his final round with a an eagle at the par-5 1st hole when his iron approach finished just 15 feet from the hole and he was able to convert the curling putt. He added a birdie at the next to open up a two-shot buffer on Willett, who matched his birdie at the 2nd hole.
Molinari made two more birdies – at the 6th and 9th holes – to reach the turn in 31 to lead Willett by three. The Italian made another birdie at the par-3 12th hole after sticking his tee shot to less than two metres from the cup. The birdie gave the 33-year-old a four-stroke advantage for six holes to play, but Willett wasn’t going to let Molinari off so easily.
Molinari left his second shot short of the green on the par-4 13th and chipped to three feet. Willett, in the meantime, rolled in his putt for birdie and Molinari seemingly lost concentration and missed his par-saver to leave the door ajar for Willett.
Molinari regained his dropped shot at the next with a birdie but he still saw his lead cut to just one stroke as Willett nailed his second shot to 12 feet on the par-5 and holed the eagle putt.
The ball-striking from both players got a little scrappy over the closing four holes but Molinari produced a little magic at the final hole to grab the win. Having missed the fairway with his drive, he played a brilliant cut shot around a tree to escape and set up a closing par that was good enough to grab the win.
"It's been a rollercoaster," Molinari 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."
Willett said playing in front of such a parochial Italian crowd was good training for the Ryder Cup starting on September 27.
"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," Willett 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."
Fast-finishing Spaniard Nacho Elvira (65) and Englishman Chris Paisley (68) shared third place at 18 under.
Victoria’s Richard Green had a two under 69 to be the best placed of the Australians at 13 under and T16. West Australian duo Brett Rumford and Jason Scrivener as well as Queensland’s Andrew Dodt closed out their campaign with 67s to finish T30, 36th and 37th respectively.