The European Tour is home to some historic tournaments and the Italian Open is very much among them. First held in 1925, Italy’s national men’s open championship has taken in some of the very best courses the country has to offer. The Italian Open doesn’t have an unblemished record in that it was not held during World War II or for 11 years after 1960 but it was one of the founding events of the European Tour in 1972.
The importance of the Italian Open was reasserted in 2017 when it became one of the first Rolex Series events, a move that helped to further strengthen the field. Among the stars of European golf to have claimed the Italian Open title include home favourites Francesco Molinari, Ugo Grappasonni and Massimo Mannelli, and the father-son duo of Percy and Peter Alliss.
2022: Robert MacIntyre
Ahead of the 2022 Italian Open Rory McIlroy spoke about the need to rebuild the European Ryder Cup team around a new breed of younger golfers. That put a whole host of players on notice ahead of this tournament at Marco Simeone Golf and Country Club, host of the 2023 Ryder Cup, and it was Robert MacIntyre who best answered the call with a dramatic victory.
Speaking after the tournament, MacIntyre made it clear that the Ryder Cup is foremost on his mind. “This is my only goal for the season – to make that Ryder Cup team,” the Scotsman said. “I think I’ve made a good start.” That’s a bit of an understatement as MacIntyre got the better of US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick in a playoff on the outskirts of Rome.
With the win, MacIntyre jumped to 15th on the Race to Dubai rankings and just outside of the top 50 in the world. He also showed himself capable of playing world-class golf under immense pressure and that his game is well suited to Marco Simeone. All in all, this was a very good week’s work for the 26 year old.
2021: Nicolai Hojgaard
In a week in which the Molinari brothers got a huge amount of support at their home championship the Italian Open and the Korda sisters got top billing on the American Solheim Cup team it was the Hojgaard brothers who made history. Nicolai Hojgaard won the Italian Open just a week after twin brother Rasmus’s win at the Omega European Masters. That made them the first brothers to win back to back events on the European Tour.
It is a phenomenal achievement for the Danish brothers who are set to become mainstays of the European Ryder Cup team for some time even if their success has come a bit too soon for a place in the 2021 team. With Rasmus cheering on from inside the ropes, Nicolai saw off a high-quality leaderboard including a resurgent Tommy Fleetwood who finished one shot off the pace in second place.
“It means a lot,” Hojgaard said after sealing his maiden European Tour title. “I've been grinding for a long time and seeing Rasmus win three times made me want to do it even more.” Fleetwood, buoyed by his own return to form ahead of the Ryder Cup was typically magnanimous in defeat. “Fair play to Nicolai - there's obviously something very special happening with those brothers and that's going to be exciting in the future,” said the Englishman.
2020: Ross McGowan
It was a challenging year for golf in 2020 for obvious reasons and the Italian Open was one of many tournaments to have a different feel to it. There were no fans present at Chervo Golf Club and gone was the Rolex Series-boosted prize fund (and therefore many of the European Tour’s biggest names) but everybody watching on safely from home was treated to a dramatic finish on Sunday as Ross McGowan edged out his playing partner Laurie Canter by one shot.
It was Canter who started the day burdened by the weight of expectation. After ending the first round in the lead, he was attempting to complete a wire to wire victory but just could not hit the heights of the previous three days. He found it especially tough on the back nine and although none of the chasing pack ever made a serious move, McGowan was there to take advantage.
A strange renewal this may have been but it was of no consequence to McGowan who was emotional as he claimed his second European Tour after an 11-year gap since his first. He got the job done without having his best from tee to green but, strangely for McGowan, he putted the lights out. He also had to hang tough after finding the water on the 14th, finishing strongly to avoid a three-man playoff with Canter and Nicolas Colsaerts by just one shot.
2019: Bernd Wiesberger
The addition of the Rolex Series of events on the European Tour has had a significant impact, not least on the Race to Dubai. Victories in the premium events like the Italian Open carry extra weight so Bernd Wiesberger was absolutely delighted to win his second Rolex Series tournament of the year at the 2019 Italian Open.
The Italian Open has developed a reputation for dramatic finishes in recent years and Wiesberger’s win was the fourth in a row to be decided by just one shot (2015 winner Rikard Karlberg won in a playoff). The Austrian was in almost complete control of his golf ball during a round of 65 which included no bogeys. That proved too good for Matt Fitzpatrick who had held the lead since Friday but made a couple of costly mistakes on Sunday.
Justin Rose was the only player to better Wiesberger’s final round. His 64 was an incredible 14 shots better than his head-scratching effort on Saturday. Wiesberger never came close to such a calamitous round though and got stronger as the week went on.
2018: Thorbjorn Olesen
Thorbjorn Olesen was almost apologetic after his win in the 2018 Italian Open. Obviously, he was delighted to win such an iconic tournament and pick up his first Rolex Series win but he knew that by pipping Francesco Molinari by a shot he had denied the galleries at Gardagolf Country Club the win that they really wanted.
Molinari, who arrived in Brescia in arguably the form of his life, gave the fans something to cheer with a birdie on his final hole to set the clubhouse lead at -21. It would have been even better were it not for an uncharacteristic lapse on 17 which resulted in just his second dropped shot of the tournament.
Olesen saw that -21 target as something to surpass rather than anything to be afraid of. He was riding the crest of a wave by the time he came to his final hole of the tournament and sealed the deal by making a birdie on 17 and closing out with a regulation par for an excellent round of 64. Disappointed as the Italian fans were, there was nothing but respect for the quality of Olesen’s golf.
2017: Tyrrell Hatton
Tyrrell Hatton could reflect on the fact that there are worse times for European Tour players to find their best form. The Englishman followed up his win at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship one week earlier with another title at the Italian Open. Winning at St Andrews is very special for any European golfer but the victory at Golf Club Milano meant every bit as much, not least because the 2017 Italian Open formed part of the new Rolex Series of events.
Hatton’s win in Monza was more dramatic than his three-shot success in Scotland. Standing on the final tee he knew that he needed a safe par to take him into a three-man playoff alongside Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Ross Fisher (who finished second to Hatton in the Alfred Dunhill Links). However, he played the 18th hole well and gave himself a chance for birdies. “I had a good feeling standing over it even though my hands were shaking and my knees were shaking,” Hatton said after the round. He was right to feel confident as the putt dropped into the cup and those nerves turned into pure relief and elation.
The birdie on 18 was one of five made by Hatton on the final seven holes. That blistering finish made up for a slow start on the front nine. “I had to battle with myself today,” Hatton said before praising his caddie for maintaining his belief.