Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational
Orlando, Florida
Winner: Francesco Molinari

Francesco Molinari had just finished, having shot a tournament-low 64. And he had the clubhouse lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. But he’d have to wait for the rest of the field to finish before he knew whether he’d won. And thus he discovered how long that wait was. It was a lifetime. Well, actually, about two hours. But it felt like a lifetime. “I just went to the locker room and watched the golf [on TV],” he said. “I find it a lot more nerve-racking sitting there than being out there playing.” Molinari, the unassuming Italian, thought just about anything was possible. Consider that in 2018, he won the Quicken Loans National by eight shots on July 1 and three weeks later won the Open Championship by two — his first PGA Tour victory and his first major, almost back-to-back.

Molinari had a storybook start to the Palmer — falling two behind early, then getting even with one swing. He double-bogeyed the par-five No. 4 out of a bush (“a good seven,” he said), and then he aced the par-three seventh, a four iron from 203 yards. He shot 69 and trailed Rafa Cabrera Bello by four. Adding 70-73, he trailed Tommy Fleetwood and Keegan Bradley by four in the second round, and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick by five in the third.

In the final round, Molinari teed off just past noon with 10 groups — 20 players — in front of him, and on a Bay Hill course whose greens had reached the point that moved Rory McIlroy, one off the lead, to observe, “You hit it 25, 30 [feet] away, you take your two-putts, you move on, and know you’re not going to lose any ground on the field.”

McIlroy was just one of Molinari’s problems. “I was thinking about him and the other guys at the top of the leaderboard,” he said. “I thought there was a chance, yes, because … yesterday, I saw how difficult the course was the last few holes.”

It was a thrilling irony that Molinari charged to the win on the course of a legend born of the charge. Arnie would have loved this show. In his eight-birdie finale, Molinari struck immediately at No. 1, holing a 21-foot putt. He dropped a seven-footer at the third and a 15-footer at the sixth. He chipped in from 45 feet at No. 8 and was eight under through the turn. He got to 10 under at 12 and 13, on putts of seven and 18 feet. He two-putted at the par-five 16th and was 11 under. Then came the pièce de résistance. At the par-four, water-guarded 18th, his 155-yard approach ended up 45 feet left of the cup. He read his putt, settled in and rapped it and watched. It rolled forever, then dropped for a birdie. Molinari gave a joyful punch toward the ground, a big grin, and then a gentle wave to the roaring crowd. He had shot 64, for a 12-under 276 and a two-stroke win.

“Incredible,” Molinari said. “Arnie was a special player, but most of all a special person … so to win here, it’s really truly special.”


Be the first to hear about the latest feature articles, annuals and more from the World of Professional Golf.