VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) — Rory McIlroy left his victory charge too late at Wentworth as Francesco Molinari delivered a clinic in front-running to win the BMW PGA Championship by two shots with a 4-under 68 on Sunday.
McIlroy, who led by three strokes at halfway, entered the final round tied for the lead with Molinari on 13 under par but a Sunday shootout at the European Tour’s flagship event never really materialized.
Instead, as McIlroy toiled to a 70 that was propped up by birdies on the par fives at Nos. 17 and 18, Molinari went bogey-free for a second straight day to claim the fifth victory of his career and the biggest since a World Golf Championship in Shanghai in 2010.
The Italian only dropped two shots all week and finished on 17-under 271, with McIlroy alone in second place. Alex Noren (67) and Lucas Bjerregaard (65) were tied for third place a stroke further back.
Molinari moved into the automatic qualifying places for the Ryder Cup, which he hasn’t played since 2012 when Europe beat the United States in the so-called “Miracle at Medinah.”
He’d previously had five top-10 finishes in the last six years at Wentworth, including being runner-up to Noren last year.
On that occasion, Noren closed with a 10-under 62 — one of the best rounds ever on the European Tour — and the Swede embarked on another last-day charge 12 months later, a fifth birdie of the day at No. 12 briefly drawing him to within two shots of Molinari.
It was the closest he came, with a bogey at the next virtually ending his bid for victory.
Molinari played safe and error-free golf, establishing a three-shot lead by the turn with birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 8, and there were no dramas on the back nine — until the final hole, which he played holding a three-stroke cushion over McIlroy.
With McIlroy on the green in two and facing a 20-foot putt for eagle, Molinari sent in his third shot that span back toward the water protecting the green, only for the ball to rest in the fringe.
McIlroy left his putt inches short and Molinari two-putted for par.
McIlroy, the four-time major winner and former No. 1, played what he described as one of his best rounds of 2018 on Friday, a bogey-free 65 that left him as an overwhelming favorite to follow up his victory here in 2014.
He struggled off the tee in shooting 71 on Saturday and started the final round with errant drives on Nos. 1 and 3 (both right, into spectators) and No. 4 (left). After a bogey at No. 10, he was the only player in the top 10 over par but he birdied the three par fives coming home to salvage what was otherwise a disappointing Sunday.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80