Italy’s Francesco Molinari came up agonisingly short in his bid for back-to-back wins and a third Italian Open crown as Thorbjorn Olesen held his nerve to claim the fifth European Tour title of his career.
Olesen carded a closing 64 at Gardagolf to finish 22 under par, a shot ahead of home favourite Molinari, who had won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last week.
The two players had been tied for the lead with two holes remaining, but Molinari dropped just his second shot of the week on the 17th and Olesen birdied the same hole in the group behind to take a two-shot lead.
Molinari refused to throw in the towel and holed a curling birdie putt on the last from 40 feet to complete a 65 and pile on the pressure, but Olesen got up and down from a greenside bunker for par to secure the first prize of £874,000 in the second Rolex Series event of 2018.
England’s Lee Slattery finished alone in third after a closing 67, despite having to get a replacement caddie after 13 holes after Max Cunningham signalled he could no longer continue due to a pelvic injury.
Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello was fourth on 18 under with Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and Andy Sullivan a shot further back in a tie for fifth.
Rory McIlroy boosted hopes of a second US PGA Tour victory this season with a sizzling eight-under par 64 in the third round of the Memorial tournament on Saturday.
The effort was McIlroy’s lowest score since a final-round 64 en route to victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando in March, when the Northern Ireland star ended an 18-month US tour victory drought.
McIlroy will still have work to do on Sunday. Starting the third round at even par, he leap-frogged 64 places.
But it was a marked turnaround after a day when McIlroy looked to be heading home early after scores of 74 and 70.
Having squeezed into the weekend, the four-time major winner grabbed his opportunity with both hands, eagling the fifth hole with a 38-foot bunker shot and adding six birdies – including three in a row from the 11th hole.
“Honestly, I am just glad to be here and just get a couple more rounds before going to the US Open as it was touch-and-go whether or not if I would make the cut,” he said.
“When I finished my second round I thought even par was easily going to get in but then once the guys went back out after the rain delay it seemed like the conditions were very benign and guys couldn’t stop making birdies.
“So, it was a bit of an edgy late afternoon, early evening but it was nice to be here for the weekend.”
The Memorial is McIlroy’s last tournament before the US Open tees off at Shinnecock Hills on New York’s Long Island on June 14.
He said he has some things to iron out before the year’s second major.
“Over the last few weeks I’ve played rounds of golf like this, but I’ve also played rounds of golf where it’s been pretty average,” he said. “The good’s very good and the bad — I need to get that a little bit better.
“If I could produce four days of golf at Shinnecock like I did today, then, yeah, I’m ready. But I’ve got a little bit of work to do just to get a bit more consistency in there.”
England’s Lee Slattery holds a one-shot lead heading into the final round of the Italian Open after carding a best-of-the-week 62 on day three at GardagOLF Country Club.
The 39-year-old from Southport fired eight birdies and an eagle from 10 feet on the seventh in his nine-under-par round.
A solitary bogey after a miscued tee shot on the 12th leaves Slattery 16 under for the week, one ahead of home favourite and last week’s BMW PGA Championship winner Francesco Molinari and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.
Halfway leader Martin Kaymer and England’s Danny Willett – both major champions but short of form of late – are a shot further back after rounds of 68 and 67 respectively.
Slattery made birdies at the fourth and sixth before taking advantage of an excellent approach to the seventh.
The two-time European Tour winner made another gain at the 10th and, after his blemish on the 12th where he was fortunate his tee shot stopped just short of the water, bounced back with a hat-trick of gains before converting from 12 feet at the last.
“It was very relaxing, playing with two good guys, Laurie Canter and Richard Sterne. (I) know them both quite well, and we just enjoyed it,” Slattery said.
“When you get in that zone, you just keep making birdies. It’s a great feeling.
“I’ll just try and relax and just enjoy it tomorrow.”
Olesen made seven birdies before dropping his only shot of the day on the 16th after three-putting for a round of 65, while Molinari – twice a winner of his national open – carded one bogey against six birdies, including a lengthy effort on the 18th which delighted the locals in Brescia.