(Reuters) - Sweet-swinging Francesco Molinari “executed the plan perfectly” to clinch a first PGA Tour title in style by taking control on the back nine as he stormed to an emphatic eight-shot victory at the Quicken Loans National in Maryland on Sunday.
Molinari matched the course record with an eight-under-par 62 in the final round at TPC Potomac to become the first Italian winner on the United States-based circuit since Toney Penna in 1947.
Swinging with metronomic precision, the two-times European Ryder Cup member stamped his authority on the field with a 50-foot eagle putt at the par-five 10th, before streaking further clear with four consecutive birdies from the 11th.
He finished on 21-under 259, while American Ryan Armour shot 68 to finish a distant second on 13-under.
“It was a lot easier than I thought,” Molinari told CBS television. “I played great. The start of the back nine was incredible. Really proud of what I’ve done and I hope a lot of guys back home were watching.”
Molinari’s triumph vindicated the 35-year-old’s decision to skip this week’s French Open on his home tour, a tournament played on the same course that will host the Ryder Cup in late September.
“It was not easy to skip Paris and the French Open but I think I can say it was the right decision,” he said.
His plan, starting the day tied for the lead with Mexican Abraham Ancer, was to attack and he can consider his approach as a mission accomplished.
“Some of the best golf probably I’ve played,” Molinari added. “I’m very proud of what I did. The plan was to do my own thing and try to make birdies and keep pushing. I’ve executed the plan perfectly.”
It was also an encouraging week for Tiger Woods as he continues to improve since his return to the circuit, the American shooting 66 to finish 10 shots behind the winner in a tie for fourth on his last start before the British Open.
“It was nice to make a couple of birdies coming in, granted missed a little kick-in on 14,” he said after another solid display since undergoing spinal fusion surgery last year.
“I thought I might give myself a chance at the 10-under mark starting the turn. Evidently I would have had to shoot 24 on the back nine to have a chance.
“What’s Francesco’s doing in phenomenal.”
Though he came up short, the quality of Woods’ iron play for most of the week suggests he is getting closer to adding to his 79 PGA Tour victories and ending a five-year winless drought.
“I’ve hit the ball well in this stretch,” he said. “I just haven’t made anything and finally I’m starting to make those putts you’re supposed to make from 10-15 feet but I’m also making some from outside 20.”
Also on Sunday, Armour, Ancer, South Korean Sung Kang and American Bronson Burgoon qualified for the July 19-22 British Open at Carnoustie, as the top four finishers not previously exempt.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien