Golf: Molinari triumphs in European PGA Championship as McIlroy's challenge falls flat

Italy's Francesco Molinari is sprayed with champagne after winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Britain on May 27, 2018 .
Italy's Francesco Molinari is sprayed with champagne after winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Britain on May 27, 2018 .PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES VIA REUTERS

WENTWORTH, United Kingdom (AFP) - Italy's Francesco Molinari won the European PGA Championship at Wentworth on Sunday (May 27), as fellow overnight leader Rory McIlroy failed to sparkle in the final round.

The 36-year-old Italian made up for his disappointment at finishing runner-up in last year's event with a steady round of four-under 68 to finish on 17-under 271.

McIlroy never looked at ease and the bounce had gone out of his step several holes from the clubhouse, although two birdies on the final two holes saw him still card a 70 to finish runner-up, two shots shy of Molinari.

McIlroy, the winner here in 2014 but who had also missed the cut on four occasions, and Molinari had started the day with a four-shot cushion over the rest of the field.

However, where Molinari was unflappable and played steadily, picking up birdies to keep the pack at bay, the Ulsterman was unable to do the same. His travails at the 10th summed up his day, as he failed to chip onto the green from just off it and recorded his first bogey on the back nine all week.

A rueful smile a few holes later when a birdie chance went begging and a constant bundle of energy in lifting his cap and rubbing his head was a very different picture of the golfer who had played such a sublime round of 65 on Friday that then-playing partner Alex Noren quipped he had thought of quitting.

An eagle chance on the final hole and with Molinari in danger of dropping a shot gave him an unlikely glimmer of hope, but the eagle attempt went just short and he dropped to his knees with his head in his hands.

Champagne shower

The Italian made no mistake though with the par putt and got showered in champagne as he left the green.

With McIlroy failing to put the pressure on Molinari it was left to defending champion Noren to try and repeat last year's extraordinary feat when he carded a 62 to come from well off the pace and deny Molinari.

However, this time the Italian kept things under control and the Swede ran out of momentum, with the consolation of a rich pay day for finishing joint-third and potentially invaluable points towards qualification for the Ryder Cup team.

There was a Noren-like charge though from Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard as the first-round leader bounced back from dropping a shot on the first to post eight birdies and his second 65 of the week to finish 14-under, level with Noren, and confirm his good form of recent weeks.

Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat entertained the growing gallery that followed him around and an early eagle gave him momentum as he carded a superb 67, flashing one of his trademark grins as he putted out on the 18th.

His playing partner, the veteran Lee Westwood, had hoped he could launch a challenge after a decent three rounds but two bogies on the outward nine dashed his chances, leaving it increasingly likely he will go to France for the Ryder Cup as a vice-captain on the European team and not as a player - despite his splendid record in the biennial contest.