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Molinari produces red-hot putting display to win Arnold Palmer Invitational

Rory McIlroy had to settle for a tied-sixth finish in Orlando.

The Italian carded a 64 on Sunday.
The Italian carded a 64 on Sunday.
Image: Getty Images

ITALY’S FRANCESCO MOLINARI unleashed the greatest putting performance of his career on Sunday, firing a final-round eight-under par 64 to win the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational by two strokes.

The 36-year-old from Turin, who took an extended rest after a career-best 2018 campaign, sank every putt from inside 15 feet to charge from five shots back and finish on 12-under par 276 with a bogey-free final round at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida.

“Incredible,” Molinari said. “It’s high up there with the best wins I’ve had.”

An 18th-hole birdie from 43 feet closed out what reigning Open champion Molinari called “probably my best putting round ever,” a claim supported by his 164.5 feet of putts made Sunday, the most by him in any US PGA round.

Molinari, Europe’s hero in last year’s Ryder Cup victory over the United States in France, sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the opening hole, made another birdie from 44 feet at the par-4 eighth, dropped yet another from 18 feet at the 13th and two-putted from 20 feet to birdie the par-5 16th.

“I could have done a lot more than that to be honest,” Molinari said. “It was really amazing to see.”

England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 54-hole leader by a stroke over Rory McIlroy, fired a 71 to settle for second on 278 with South Korea’s Im Sung-jae, England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello sharing third on 279.

Im took one of three available spots for the Open to those not yet qualified with the others going to South Korean Kang Sung and American Keith Mitchell, who shared sixth on 280 with McIlroy and England’s Matt Wallace.

For McIlroy, it marked the seventh time in the last 12 months that he played in the final group on the last day without a victory to show for it.

Molinari finished 90 minutes ahead of the final group, then watched the last 10 pairings reach the clubhouse trying in vain to match his magical run to a third win in his past 12 US PGA starts — this event named for one of Molinari’s sporting idols.

“I’m just super glad,” Molinari said. “It’s great to get it done here at Arnie’s place, knowing my wife and kids are watching back home.

“It’s a special, special one. Arnie was a special player but also a special person and a global icon. He and Jack (Nicklaus) were up there with the gods.”

gettyimages-1134966653-594x594 Molinari was in red-hot form with the putter. Source: Getty Images

Molinari said he didn’t approach the final round with any special ideas of clawing his way back, instead seeking opportunities as they came along.

“No game plan really, just trying to hit good shots and give myself chances,” Molinari said. “I saw the course got firm and fast.”

Molinari began the most impressive victory run of his career last May at Wentworth with the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship, followed by an eight-stroke victory at the National for his first US PGA title, then struck three weeks later for his first Major title at Carnoustie.

At the Ryder Cup, Molinari became the first player to go 5-0 in matches, pairing with Tommy Fleetwood to claim foursomes and four-ball triumphs and then beating Phil Mickelson in singles.

“Confidence has to do a lot with it,” Molinari said. “I started building my confidence and seeing I could get it done. I went through the summer, a run of golf I couldn’t even believe for me.”

Now, after a significant rest, Molinari has one more trophy to add to his collection with the Masters only a month away.

“Finding motivation was easy after last year,” Molinari said. “I took a longer break after last year. I’ve never been a fast starter on the PGA Tour. So this is nice to see.”

- © AFP, 2019

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