DUBAI • Francesco Molinari is the first Italian golfer to clinch the European Tour's Race to Dubai title after defending champion Tommy Fleetwood failed to win the season-ending DP World Tour Championship yesterday.
Molinari, 36, has enjoyed a remarkable season, winning his maiden Major title at the Open Championship along with the BMW PGA Championship.
Englishman Fleetwood, who had needed to win at the Jumeirah Golf Estates to overtake Molinari for the European Tour's Order of Merit title, finished joint-16th with a final-round four-under 68 for a 10-under 278 total, eight shots behind winner and former Masters champion Danny Willett of England.
"It's incredible. Now I'm going to have time to sit down and relax and really think back about the last few months," said Molinari, who shot a final-round 71 to be joint-26th.
"This morning on the first tee, the announcement is the winner of the Open Championship, Race to Dubai leader, it doesn't sound real at the moment.
"It's more than I ever dreamt of achieving. I've seen guys that I think are better players than me not winning Majors and not winning the Order of Merit or Race to Dubai. To achieve those things in one single season is incredible."
Molinari also played a pivotal role in Team Europe's Ryder Cup victory over the United States at Le Golf National in September, becoming the first European to win five points out of five. Four of those points were won in a pairing with teammate Fleetwood.
"It's tough in a way because it would have been probably easier in a way to play against anyone else but him (Fleetwood)," Molinari added. "I know how talented he is and I really thought that, at some point, he was going to win it and put me in a tough spot.
"He's obviously a great guy and a super talented player and I'm sure, being younger than me, he will win Race to Dubai a few more times."
Willett, meanwhile, made a triumphant return to the winner's circle yesterday after making three birdies in his last five holes at the Jumeirah Golf Estates' Earth Course for a 68 to finish at 18 under, two shots clear of fellow Englishman Matt Wallace (68) and reigning Masters champion Patrick Reed (70).
Englishman Willett had the world at his feet in April 2016 when he claimed a maiden Major title at the Masters but he has not tasted victory since then.
Injuries and a lack of form saw him drop to as low as 462nd in the world rankings, but the 31-year-old rediscovered his winning form in Dubai.
"It's been a lot of hard work," said an emotional Willett after winning his sixth European Tour title.
"It's been tough. I'm just massively proud of myself and everyone that's been around me.
"You never quite know when a win is around the corner and, with all the things that have happened, I was never quite sure if it was going to happen again.
"To happen here at the end of year, we've battled long and hard through this season to come out at the end, regardless of what happened today, a better person and a better athlete.
"It's been a hell of a lot of work and it's just nice to be back."