'Exhausted' Molinari ends four-year wait at Italian Open


Milan (AFP)

An 'exhausted' Francesco Molinari ended his four-year wait for a win on the European tour with a one-stroke victory over England's Masters champion Danny Willett at the Italian Open on Sunday.

Molinari, whose last EPGA win came at the Spanish Open in 2012, finished on 22 under par at the par-71 Golf Club di Milano course.

Willett, crowned Masters champion earlier this year, finished one stroke behind with Nacho Elvira of Spain and England's Chris Paisley finishing tied for third at 18-under for the tournament.

It was Molinari's second Italian Open title, having won his maiden triumph in 2006, and marks only his fourth victory on the tour.

It is also the 33-year-old's first victory since he became a father, but he admitted the final-round drama -- which saw Willett launch an exciting challenge after cutting his deficit to a shot with an eagle at the 14th -- had taken all his strength.

"At the last hole I was just exhausted. I didn't have anything left. It was only the nervous energy that got me through," said a visibly weary Molinari.

"I was hitting horrible shots but somehow I managed to bring it in."

He added: "It's been a rollercoaster few days but I'm delighted. It's wonderful. I want to dedicate this to my wife and to my kid, it's my first victory as a father."

Molinari was one of several players who pulled out of the Rio Olympics earlier this summer due to fears over the zika virus. The London-based golfer has a toddler son.

But the Italian, who has finished runner-up in five events since his last EPGA win in 2012, had past form on his side.

He had recorded four top eight finishes in his last nine appearances at his home tournament, and in front of thousands of delirious fans Molinari held his nerve during a nervous finish to keep Willett at bay.

The Italian boasted a four-shot lead with six holes to play but Masters Tournament winner Willett went birdie-eagle on the 13th and 14th to cut the gap to one.

He added: "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."

Both Molinari and Willett sprayed their tee shots on the last, but the Italian, from under the trees, produced a sensational approach and Willett a brilliant clutch putt as both finished par for the hole.

It sparked emotional celebrations, and made Molinari 500,000 euros richer, the prize money purse being increased to over 3m euros this year.