Francesco Molinari storms to Arnold Palmer Invitational victory


Francesco Molinari fired a sensational eight-under 64 to snatch a two-shot victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

The Open champion started the final day in a tie for 16th place, five shots off the lead, but he stormed through the field with a flawless round containing eight birdies which he later described as “the best putting round of his career”.

The Italian capped his round by holing from 44 feet at the 18th to finish on 12-under 276, a clubhouse target which proved beyond the later starters.

Rory McIlroy, the defending champion who closed with a 64 last year, failed to mount a serious challenge on the back nine after starting just one behind overnight leader Matthew Fitzpatrick, who had to settle for second place on 10 under.

Tommy Fleetwood, Molinari’s Ryder Cup partner, shared third place on nine under with Rafa Cabrera Bello and Sungjae Kim, while McIlroy’s level-par 72 left him in a tie for sixth on eight under with Matt Wallace, Keith Mitchell and Sung Kang.

Molinari, who began his round an hour and 40 minutes ahead of the pace-setters, stated his intent with a birdie at the first and followed that with further gains at the third and sixth.

He then chipped in from the back rough for another birdie at the eighth and moved into a share of the lead with Fitzpatrick after back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th.

The 36-year-old went close to making an eagle at the 16th but his birdie was good enough to put him ahead and he doubled that advantage with his sensational finish.

Molinari, who holed a total of 146 feet of putts during his round, said: “I have to say it was probably the best putting round of my career. I made some really good putts from the start.

“I don’t know if I could have done a lot more than that to be honest.”

Fitzpatrick made a birdie at the fourth but he never really got his round going with a string of pars as the putts failed to drop and, despite recovering from a bogey at the 15th with a birdie at the 16th, he was unable to make any inroads into Molinari’s lead down the stretch as he signed for a one-under 71.

McIlroy joined Fitzpatrick in the lead when he holed a 27-foot birdie putt at the third, but an untidy run of holes then saw him drop a shot at the seventh as well as missing several birdie chances as his iron-play let him down.

He played some steady stuff on the back nine but the sparkle was missing as he came home in level par, with a bogey at 15, a birdie at 16, and seven pars.

Fleetwood, who wrecked his chances with a 76 on Saturday, had five birdies and one bogey in his four-under 68, one better than early pace-setter Cabrera Bello, who bogeyed the 18th after attempting to join Molinari on 12 under by holing his second shot, only to hit the rocks.

Im’s 68 earned him one of the three qualifying places on offer for The Open at Royal Portrush with his fellow South Korean Kang (68) and last week’s Honda Classic winner Mitchell, who had set the clubhouse pace before Molinari with a 66, claiming the other two.

Wallace got to 10 under when he eagled the 16th but he ended with back-to-back bogeys – missing from around two feet at the 18th – in a costly finish.

(c) Sky News 2019: Francesco Molinari storms to Arnold Palmer Invitational victory

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