Francesco Molinari Produces Brilliant Final Round to Win at Bay Hill

By: | Mon 11 Mar 2019 | Comments


HOW did that just happen? Open champion Francesco Molinari continued his dream run when he shot a brilliant final round of 64 to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. The little Italian hasn’t been at his best thus far in 2019 but he made up for it in sensational fashion in Orlando.

The script was written for Rory McIlroy to make a successful defence of the title he won in such brilliant fashion 12 months ago but McIlroy endured another wretched day when he couldn’t hole a putt worth the name. And, in any event, Molinari hadn’t bothered to read the script, just as he hadn’t when he beat the world’s finest players to land the Claret Jug at Carnoustie last July.

It was a wonderful day for Europe, with England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, who began the final round leading by one, firing a one-under-par 71 to finish second. But the day belonged to the 36-year-old Italian. He was five behind going into the final round and nobody gave him a chance but he produced a grandstand finish, holing a 40-foot putt on the 72nd green for a 12-under-par winning total of 276 and a two-shot victory.

McIlroy could only manage two birdies all day and finished in a tie for sixth place on eight under. It was another disappointing tournament for a man who is developing an unfortunate habit of being able to finish the job off.

With the firm fast greens again difficult to hold at Bay Hill, Molinari, European Tour Golfer of the Year in 2018, holed from thick rough behind the green at the eighth for his fourth birdie of the day. The Italian, who teed off an hour and 40 minutes before the final group, left an eagle putt on the edge of the 16th hole but rattled in an eighth birdie at the last to set a formidable target, putting Fitzpatrick two shots behind in second place with six holes to play.

The 24-year-old from Sheffield, who did not drop a shot in round three, made his first bogey of the final day at the 15th to fall three adrift with three to play.

A 12-foot eagle chance at the 16th slid by and he needed to hole a three-foot par putt at the last to secure sole possession of second. The good news is that it gives Fitzpatrick Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour, with unlimited sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the season.

McIlroy, one behind going into the final round, had curled in a 15 foot birdie putt at the third to share the lead, but a five-foot birdie chance missed at the next and he dropped a shot at the par three seventh after missing the green.

The Northern Irishman had a drive and a wedge at the 501-yard par-five 16th but, like playing partner Fitzpatrick, the putts would not drop on the final day and his eagle chance also refused to drop.  He will be bitterly disappointed to have seen another great victory chance slip through his fingers.

Englishman Matt Wallace reached 10 under with an eagle at the 16th before he found a greenside bunker at the next and his par putt lipped out. The frustration mounted for the world number 37 when he three-putted the last and finished eight under.

First-round leader Rafa Cabrera-Bello was sharing second when his approach to the last found water and he dropped to nine under.

Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, the halfway leader who slipped down the leaderboard with a miserable round of 76 on Saturday, also finished on nine under. The world number 14 played out from a fairway bunker to within two feet at the first for a birdie, one of five in his closing 68.

Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, who had hoped to gain Open qualification this week, had two double bogeys and a triple bogey in a 78 and was tied for 54th at two over, having begun with a 68.

European Tour

Justin Harding birdied three of his last four holes to claim his first European Tour win at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. The South African arrived at Doha Golf Club without full playing privileges after finishing third on last season's Asian Tour. He made three early birdies to share the lead but his chance looked to have gone as he made two bogeys and South Korea's Jinho Choi signed for a brilliant 64 to set the clubhouse target at 11 under.

Birdies on the 10th and 12th put him back in contention and further birdies at the 15th, 17th and 18th handed him a two shot lead at 13 under after a 66. He then faced a nervous wait as the final groups finished up but nobody could catch him, with countrymen Christiaan Bezuidenhout, George Coetzee and Erik van Rooyen, Span's Jorge Campillo and Nacho Elvira, Swede Anton Karlsson, Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera, England's Oliver Wilson and Choi in a European Tour record nine way tie for second.

The victory is a fifth in nine months and four different countries worldwide for 33-year-old Harding, who recorded successive Sunshine Tour wins in May and repeated the feat on the Asian Tour in July. He becomes the fifth South African winner of this event after Darren Fichardt, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Branden Grace.

"It feels good," said Harding, who had two top fives and three further top 20s from eight events coming into the event. "It was nerve wracking, especially coming off, it's a situation I haven't really been in. I didn't enjoy it but it's good fun, I'm glad it happened and now we move on. I get into the events that I'd like to be into again, the schedules change, I'm no longer having to pick and choose. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens going forward and playing in some bigger events.”

Harding birdied the par five first for the fourth time this week and added further birdies on the third and fourth to share the lead.

It was a packed leaderboard, and dropped shots on the sixth and seventh dropped him back as Choi surged through the field. Starting the day seven shots off the lead, the 34-year-old birdied the first, second, third, eighth and ninth to turn in 31 and another gain on the 12th had him in touch. He then just missed the green on the par-four 16th but holed a huge putt for an eagle to take the lead before missing a good birdie chance on the last.

Karlsson had made birdies from 30 and three feet on the first and seventh and he took advantage of the par five tenth to share the lead, with Elvira also birdieing the tenth to add to a gain after getting up and down from the sand on the first.

Harding was another to take advantage of the 10th and when he holed from the fringe on the 12th and hit a brilliant second from the rough to four feet on the 15th, it was a four way tie. A 25-foot downhill putt on the 12th edged Elvira ahead but Harding holed from just off the back of the 17th green and Elvira found sand off the 13th tee for a two-shot swing.

Harding got down in two from the front of the green on the par five 18th and then had to wait and see if anybody could catch him. Karlsson dropped shots on the 13th and 14th but recovered on the 16th and last, while Elvira bogeyed the 17th but birdied the next. Coetzee eagled the last for a 68 that made it five top-10finishes at this event, with Bezuidenhout and Campillo also recording four under par rounds.

Karlsson signed for a 69, Elvira, Lorenzo-Vera and Van Rooyen went round in 70, and overnight leader Wilson finished with a 71. Belgian Thomas Detry, England's Andy Sullivan and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti were ten under.


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