Francesco Molinari pulled a Rory McIlroy on Rory McIlroy. The reigning Open champion won the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational in the exact same manner as his Ryder Cup teammate did in 2018 — with an 8-under 64 in the final round that included a long birdie at the 72nd hole.
Molinari’s 64, the best round in the field on Sunday by two strokes, concluded nearly two hours before the leaders — which coincidentally including McIlroy this year — finished up their rounds. Nobody came close to touching his 12 under score for the week, as McIlroy’s Round 4 playing partner, Matthew Fitzpatrick, came the closest at 10 under. It became obvious as Molinari’s back nine unfolded early on Sunday afternoon that something special was taking place.
The Italian went out in 32 before making birdies at Nos. 12 and 13. He nearly jarred an albatross on No. 16 before settling for an easy birdie. Then came the curtain call on No. 18 — a 44-foot birdie to go two clear of the field and, on a day when the field average was right at even par, effectively put the tournament out of reach.
Molinari, normally known for his roped irons and tight wedges, actually finished with much better driving and putting numbers than he did with his irons. The 44-foot close jumped him up to second on the day in putting and fourth on the week. It’s problematic for whatever field Molinari is facing for the week if he’s finished fourth in putting on the week.
“… to get it done here at Arnie’s place knowing that my wife and the kids were watching back home,” Molinari told NBC. “It’s a special, special one.”
The win is Molinari’s fourth in the last calendar year, and there have been some gems. The BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour. The Quicken Loans National on the PGA Tour. That magical Open last summer. And now this one. Improbably, at the age of 36, Molinari has picked up distance off the tee and made himself a threat in any tournament he enters.
So while he might not be the sexiest name or the biggest hitter, Molinari is often the quietest, most dangerous man on the leaderboard. A trait that is feared more than most, and he showed once again on Sunday why, when deployed properly, it’s good enough to blow away the best players in the game. Grade: A+
Here are the rest of our grades for the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Tommy Fleetwood (T3): One of these things is not like the other one — 69-66-76-68. Fleetwood’s third round 76 while playing in the final pairing with Keegan Bradley sunk his chances to cruise to his first PGA Tour victory, but he was still terrific throughout the week. I don’t want to overstate the importance of learning how to win on the best tour in the world, but there’s certainly still a little “I kind of need to see it to believe it” lingering with Fleetwood. One interesting note: He lost strokes to the field in three of the four rounds he played and still nearly made it into a playoff. Ball-striking king. Grade: A-
Rory McIlroy (T6): Sunday could not have been more of a letdown. McIlroy started the day one back of Matthew Fitzpatrick’s lead and shot an uninspired 72. It wasn’t even a roller coaster of a 72. He was never more than 1 under or 1 over on the day and never even scared the lead over the last three hours of the event. Sure, it was always going to be difficult to deflect the fire Molinari was spewing, but at what point in a long series of “what are you going to do about that other guy having a career day?” do you start asking, “Why isn’t Rory ever that other guy?” Grade: A-
Rickie Fowler (T40): Fowler finally had it cruising in the proper direction on Sunday afternoon before he was upended by a double bogey and a bogey late in the day to drop out of the top 25. Interestingly he tied another pair of Oklahoma State Cowboys on the opposite end of the career spectrum. Amateur Viktor Hovland and six-time PGA Tour winner Hunter Mahan both also finished at 1-under 287. It was a bit of a disappointment for Fowler following three straight finishes in the top 30 at this event and his runner-up finish last week at the Honda Classic. His big struggle this week was off the tee where he finished 64th in the field in driving (out of just 70). He’ll have a chance to turn it around quickly at TPC Sawgrass next week. Grade: B-