Ben Everill, PGA TOUR, 11 March 2019: For the second year running – this time from Italian Francesco Molinari – a stunning 8-under 64 final round has turned up a champion at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
It is like Palmer himself, who was known for his aggressive charges up the leaderboard, has a hand in it from the great beyond.
Molinari started the final round five shots behind the leader, but his bogey-free Sunday shot him to 12 under and a two-shot win.
It was punctuated by a stunning 43-foot, nine-inch birdie putt on the final hole – the scene of so much drama over the years.
Anirban Lahiri showed yet again that when push comes to shove, he can always summon his best golf.
After a rocky start during which he conceded three bogeys over the first six holes, Anirban picked up the pieces and played with great composure. He was clean as a whistle through the final twelve holes, adding birdies at 8 & 13 in a final round 73.
While Anirban will be disappointed with his poor showing this week, there were several pockets from which he can draw positive energy as he plods on in the quest for success on the PGA TOUR.
The Italian now has three PGA TOUR wins in his last 12 TOUR starts and rocketed from 151st to 20th in the FedExCup and to seventh in the world rankings.
“I tried to be aggressive from the start and it was nice to see quite a lot of putts dropping … especially for my standards,” Molinari said.
“I think it’s been the best putting round ever in my career. And it’s nice to do it, obviously in those circumstances, at Arnie’s place.
“And I don’t know, there must be something going on with that line (on 18), because it seems that a lot of guys winning the tournament make that putt.”
A year ago it was Rory McIlroy shooting 8 under on Sunday to win. He had a chance to go back-to-back having started just one off the lead but faded to a T6 finish.
Overnight leader Matt Fitzpatrick (71) finished two back.
Molinari said it was certainly fitting for the event to be won in a way Arnold would likely have been satisfied with.
“It’s always a pleasure for us to come back here to his place, it was obviously even better when he was around, but even now you can feel his presence and, yeah, hopefully he saw Rory last year and he saw me this year and he’s proud of what we did out there,” Molinari said.
“Coming from Italy, we weren’t exposed to that much golf, but obviously Arnie was such a global icon and this tournament was one that we watched, my brother and myself, at home many times.
“Watching Tiger making that putt on 18 … So it’s still a bit unreal to think that I’ve done kind of the same today.”
Molinari now lays claim to being one of the most clutch players in world golf.
He joins Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland with the most final rounds (four) of 64 or better on the PGA TOUR since the start of the 2016-17 season.
“I know that I can shoot low scores pretty much on every golf course … I’m not scared to say that, or I’m not shy of confidence in that way,” Molinari added.
“It’s never easy, but I think what makes the difference is my mental approach is a lot better than what it was three, four years ago and I practice at home to do this sort of stuff in tournaments.”
The next step is a drive up I-95 to Ponte Vedra Beach to take his place at THE PLAYERS Championship.
He will look to become the first Italian to win the iconic event.
“THE PLAYERS next week is one of those weeks that you circle in the calendar at the beginning of the year,” Molinari said.
“I had quite a long off season, but I was hoping to hit form around THE PLAYERS and things have gone even better than I thought.”
No player has ever won the week before THE PLAYERS and triumphed at TPC Sawgrass.
But don’t rule out Molinari breaking that trend.
Rory McIlroy remains upbeat despite another lacklustre Sunday
Rory McIlroy is a glass-half-full kind of guy.
The defending champion at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard remained upbeat on Sunday despite suffering another final-group fade out.
In what has become a worrying trend for the former FedExCup champion, he has now failed to win the last nine times he has played in the final group on Sunday dating back to the start of 2018.
McIlroy did win at Bay Hill a year ago but came from well back to do so. It remains the 14-time PGA TOUR winner’s most recent triumph.
Starting one shot back in second place, McIlroy could only manage an even-par 72 on Sunday to fall to T6, four shots off the pace.
Of the top 14 on the leaderboard, he was the only one who failed to shoot under par.
“My Sundays haven’t been what I would have liked, but I’m putting myself in that position, so good golf is good golf, I keep saying that, at the end of the day,” McIlroy said.
“It was a tough day, tough to get it close to the hole. I feel like I really didn’t play that badly. I missed a couple of shots, but I felt like I was hitting good shots to 30 feet all day and it’s hard to sort of shoot a score.”
While winner Francesco Molinari needed just 25 putts, making 146-feet, 9 inches worth, it wasn’t as pleasant for McIlroy on the greens.
He needed 30 putts and made just 61 feet, 11 inches worth.
On the plus side, McIlroy has now finished inside the top six, without winning, in his last six starts on the PGA TOUR.
Rather than dwell on the missed chances, the Northern Irishman has already turned his focus to THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
“I’m playing well, I’m getting myself into contention every week, (I need to) continue to do that, going into next week, that’s the great thing about golf, you don’t have to wait too long to get back on the horse,” he said.
“So I’m happy with everything, I just think today I could have played the par 5s better, but really apart from that it was an unbelievable round from Francesco to shoot what he did.
“I would have needed to go out there to shoot 67 to better him, which would have been one of the best scores of the day, and anything under 70 out there this afternoon was a great score.”