Red-Hot Francesco Molinari Wins the Arnold Palmer Invitational 2019 by 2 Strokes

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2019

Francesco Molinari, right, of Italy, leaves the first green after making a putt for birdie during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Francesco Molinari is a PGA Tour tournament champion for the third time in his last 12 starts.

Molinari prevailed at the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando with a brilliant final round Sunday. He shot an eight-under 64 after entering play five back of the lead, finishing the tournament at 12 under par and two strokes clear of the rest of the field.


🇮🇹 @F_Molinari has won the @APInv! 🏆 On the PGA TOUR ... First 120 starts: 0 wins Last 12 starts: 3 wins #LiveUnderPar https://t.co/RuDrjcByq4

The Italian also won the Open Championship and the Quicken Loans National in 2018 and played steady, bogey-free golf throughout the entirety of his round Sunday.

He was particularly impressive on the green with 4.237 shots gained putting after finishing with a minus-.096 in the same stat in the third round, per PGATour.com. Molinari posted four birdies on the front nine and four birdies on the back, punctuating his showing with a 44-foot putt on the final hole:


You must play boldly to win. #LiveUnderPar https://t.co/7v40cw0DrJ

"Probably have to say my best putting round ever," Molinari said on the NBC broadcast (h/t Eurosport). "I don't know if I could have done a lot more than that to be honest."

Here is a look at Molinari and the rest of the top finishers:

1. Francesco Molinari, -12

2. Matthew Fitzpatrick, -10

T3. Sungjae Im, -9

T3. Tommy Fleetwood, -9

T3. Rafa Cabrera Bello, -9

T6. Sung Kang, -8

T6. Rory McIlroy, -8

T6. Keith Mitchell, -8

T6. Matt Wallace, -8

Molinari's showing means 24-year-old Matthew Fitzpatrick is still without a PGA Tour victory in his young career. He entered the final round with a one-stroke lead over Rory McIlroy and held off the marquee name but was unable to account for Molinari's charge.

"It's a lot different over here, I feel," Fitzpatrick said of competing on the PGA Tour heading into the round, per Christopher Powers of Golf Digest. "Different atmosphere, different styles of golf course, different fields. It's exciting, I've put myself in a good position, so I'm looking forward to it."

His steady play was fitting of a leader looking to close out the win with eight pars and a birdie on the front nine, but he fell three strokes back with a bogey on No. 15 and missed an eagle put on No. 16 that would have given him a chance down the stretch.

Matt Wallace and Rafa Cabrera Bello each pulled within two strokes near the end but were unable to capitalize. Wallace eagled No. 16 but bogeyed Nos. 17 and 18, while Bello birdied Nos. 12, 15 and 16 before a bogey on the last hole.


Fighting for a chance. 💪🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿🦅 @MattSJWallace with a clutch eagle. #LiveUnderPar https://t.co/v1KE31dimB

As for McIlroy, he was looking to make history and join Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only golfers with 15 PGA Tour wins and four majors before turning 30 years old, per Justin Ray of 15th Club. He was also the defending champion at this event and figured to be Fitzpatrick's biggest challenger after Saturday.

However, he was never able to make a sustained charge with one birdie and one bogey on the front nine and one birdie and one bogey on the back nine.


Perfect putt from @McIlroyRory. The defending @APInv champion is tied for the lead. #QuickHits https://t.co/SRxJfX07Yy

He can take solace knowing it was another top-10 finish after he tied for fourth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, tied for fifth at the Farmers Insurance Open, tied for fourth at the Genesis Open and was the runner-up at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

McIlroy was at least in contention for stretches, which is more than Friday's co-leaders could realistically say.

Tommy Fleetwood plummeted on moving day with a four-over 76 but managed to salvage his tournament with a four-under 68 on Sunday to finish in the top five. Keegan Bradley had a forgettable weekend with a three-over 75 in the third round and six-over 78 in the final round to bring his tournament score to even.

Bradley was not the only big name who struggled to keep pace, as Phil Mickelson missed the cut, Jason Day withdrew, Rickie Fowler finished one under and Patrick Reed finished one over.

Molinari will look to continue challenging them and others as he builds on his momentum with a third top-30 finish and first victory of 2019.