Francesco Molinari entered Sunday’s final round at Bay Hill five shots off the lead.
His ensuing 8-under 64 to capture the Arnold Palmer Invitational was a fitting tribute to the man who coined the phrase “You must play boldly to win.”
The reigning British Open champion made eight birdies with no bogeys to shoot 12-under 276 for the week.
He sealed the deal with another phrase Mr. Palmer was quite fond of.
“One shot, on the rocks.”
Molinari drained a 43-foot birdie putt on the stone-lined 18th green to clinch the title, his second since toppling Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy at Carnoustie last July.
“It’s a pretty iconic putt,” Molinari said of the venue. “I’ve seen so many putts on TV like that, and to do it yourself, it’s really amazing.”
It was the third Tour win for the 36-year-old who continues to raise his profile and gain recognition outside of his native Italy. He rose to No. 6 in the world after raising the Claret Jug and was 10th to begin the week at Bay Hill.
A pedestrian 54-hole start simply set the stage for another stunning Sunday performance to emerge from a crowded pack that included McIlroy, who fell back with a final-round even-par 72 to finish T-6.
Overnight leader and 24-year-old Northwestern grad Matthew Fitzpatrick finished solo second after a 1-under 71 in the final round, two shots behind Molinari at 10 under.
Honda Classic winner Keith Mitchell shot 66 in the final round to follow his first career victory with a T-6 finish, landing him a spot in the 2019 British Open at Royal Portrush.
McIlroy’s third-round 66 was just another tease from the Irishman, who now has five consecutive top-6 finishes but no wins since his 2018 victory at Bay Hill amid a career-best putting week. His short game isn’t all that bad now, but it’s the reason such an immense talent is racking up FedExCup points instead of trophies.
“It surprises me every week he doesn’t win, to be honest,” Charles Howell III said Saturday night.
It was a relatively laid-back affair absent the roars that followed eight-time winner Tiger Woods around the property throughout last year’s T-5 finish. Woods withdrew Monday afternoon citing a neck strain that’s been bothering him for a few weeks. He tweeted then that he had no long-term concerns and a return for this week’s Players Championship seems likely – the PGA Tour announced Sunday he’s scheduled for a 10:30 a.m. news conference Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass.
The Stadium Course is going to be an absolute madhouse with Woods back in the fold. It’s peak spring break season for college students, the final round will be played on St. Patrick’s Day and this tournament was never calm to begin with.
Four days at Bay Hill provided a relaxing shot of Americana, while Molinari’s stellar Sunday took us back to the game’s roots evoking his breakthrough major win at Carnoustie.
This week’s Players Championship will be loud. It will be unpredictable. It may not find space in the four-major circuit, but it leaves no room for the timid.
Molinari should fit right in.