Arnie would have loved it.
He would have loved the way Francesco Molinari gave it everything and then some with a spectacular Sunday charge that captured the Arnold Palmer Invitational title.
The reigning Open champion came up with what he called “perhaps my best putting round ever” on his way to an eye-popping, eight-under par 64 at testy Bay Hill. Tournament host and grandson of Palmer — Sam Saunders, summed up Molinari’s round to a tee — “He did everything right.”
Molinari’s biggest weapon was his putter. He made 146-feet of putts and made every putt he had inside of 15 feet on his way to an eight-birdie round on a course that wasn’t set up for such a low score. His biggest moment came when he rolled in a final birdie on the 18th green from just outside 43-feet to set the bar, a bar that was too high for the rest of the field.
It was certainly too high for the final pairing. Overnight leader Matthew Fitzpatrick simply did not have enough fire-power to shoot the 69 he would have needed just to tie Molinari. Instead he wound up with a 71 and beat his playing partner — Rory McIlroy. McIlroy continued to be a final round flunkie. He’s been in the final group of a tournament seven times over the past 12 months and hasn’t been able to pick up a win. He shot even par, birdied just one par five and looked quite ordinary all day. At eight-under par, he tied for sixth and ended his streak of four-straight top five finishes.
Fitzpatrick did play well enough for solo second. Last week’s winner — Keith Michell — had an impressive day with a six-under par 66. He finished in the group with McIlroy but more important, he earned a spot in the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
Molinari will defend his title there and his performance Sunday looked like the one he turned in at Carnoustie last year.
“I had no game plan,” Molinari admitted when asked what it was. “I was just trying to hit good shots and give myself chances. Confidence has a lot to do with it,” he said.
He was all smiles after waiting nearly two hours for the final group to finish.
He was especially happy to win after switching equipment. “Everyone thought I was crazy to switch but I’m just super glad, my first week as a Callaway player,” he said, giving props to his new equipment sponsor, the same one Arnold Palmer ended his career with.
He heads to the Players Championship with his game in order. “I can’t wait to get there,” he said.