Italy’s Francesco Molinari finally got his hands on the BMW PGA Championship trophy as Rory McIlroy’s bid for a second title came up short.
Molinari carded a closing 68 to finish 17 under par and two shots ahead of playing partner McIlroy, with defending champion Alex Noren and Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard a shot further back.
Molinari, whose second place 12 months ago was his fifth top 10 at Wentworth in the last six years, began the day in a tie for the lead with McIlroy but quickly moved clear with birdies on the third, fourth and eighth and never looked like being caught until some late drama on the final hole.
Three ahead playing the 18th, Molinari’s third shot to the green almost span back into the water and his fourth left him facing five feet for par, with McIlroy 20 feet away for eagle.
However, McIlroy agonisingly left his attempt inches short and Molinari held his nerve to hole out for par, meaning he had dropped just two shots all week, the last coming on the 10th hole of the second round.
The impressive win will take the 35-year-old back inside the world’s top 20 and within sight of securing a third Ryder Cup appearance in September.
McIlroy had enjoyed a three-shot lead at halfway, but struggled to a 71 on Saturday and rescued a 70 on Sunday with birdies on the last two holes.
Former champion Rory McIlroy believes he needs to rediscover the carefree approach which led to his unlikely victory in the 2014 BMW PGA Championship to potentially emulate the best season of his career.
Victory at Wentworth four years ago came just days after a visibly upset McIlroy revealed he had called off his wedding to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, the Northern Irishman admitting being inside the ropes had been his “sanctuary” during a turbulent week.
And while the four-time major winner, who married Erica Stoll in 2017, would clearly not wish for any similar personal heartache this week, he is well aware that 2014’s triumph was followed later that year by consecutive victories in the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA.
“I guess all you need is that spark or that catalyst,” McIlroy said. “I felt like my game was trending in the right direction in 2014, but didn’t quite have the win.
“On that Sunday I was seven shots behind going into the last day. I didn’t expect to win. I just wanted to go out and play a good final round.
“I think about that a lot because you’d love to go out and play with that mindset all the time, but that’s not life and we’re wired as human beings to be a bit more careful, to stay away from the water, don’t hit it in that bunker.
“I think that’s just the way we’re wired as humans and it’s a constant battle with yourself out on the course to try and get away from that and freewheel it and be a bit more confident in your decisions and make free golf swings.
“I’d love to go out and play that way every single time, but I don’t think that’s possible. I’d like to get to the point where the majority of the time you can play that way.
“But it did snowball from there (in 2014) and I got on to a nice little bit of a hot streak, and I’d love to be able to do something like that again.
“I’ve got a busy summer coming up. There’s a lot of big tournaments to play in, still got three major championships and the Ryder Cup and everything else. So yeah, maybe this could be the spark that gets that all going again.”
McIlroy’s 2018 campaign has hardly been a disaster thanks to an impressive victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and three other top-five finishes, but he has also missed three cuts and failed to complete the career grand slam after a disappointing final round in the Masters.
“The win at Bay Hill was great,” McIlroy added. “I think playing my way into the final group at Augusta was fantastic, as well, so they were real steps forward compared to, say, the last 18 months.
“I just feel like it’s been a little bit inconsistent. If I can just get my play a little bit more consistent and swing a little more consistently, that would be a step in the right direction.”
Westwood has played in the last 10 contests since making his debut in 1997 and was on the winning side seven times, while Harrington was vice-captain to Paul McGinley in 2014 and Darren Clarke in 2016.
McDowell, who claimed the winning point at Celtic Manor in 2010, and Donald will make their debuts in the backroom staff at Le Golf National in Paris as Europe seek to regain the trophy following defeat at Hazeltine two years ago.
Bjorn, who had already selected Sweden’s Robert Karlsson as a vice-captain, said: “All five are widely respected throughout the game, are all current players who are well known to the players who will be in our team come September and they also all possess a knowledge and understanding of what to expect from the golf course at Le Golf National too.
“You only need to look at the record books to see that their Ryder Cup pedigree speaks for itself. Each of them has played both home and away so they are well versed in the contest and know how to handle the special and unique atmosphere.
“They all possess strong personalities but each of them will also bring something different to the team, giving us great balance. They have forthright opinions which is vital under the spotlight of a Ryder Cup week and is something which can only help our cause as we try and regain the trophy.”
The quartet could still qualify for the biennial contest which takes place from September 28-30, but Westwood (117th) is the only player currently ranked inside the world’s top 200.
Westwood and Harrington have also expressed an interest in the captaincy and could be rivals to succeed Bjorn and lead Europe in the 2020 contest at Whistling Straits.
Bjorn’s opposite number Jim Furyk has named Davis Love, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker as assistants, although Woods has stated his intention to play on the team as well.