- February 15, 2022
Standing in front of a packed grandstand on the 18th green at Bay Hill Sunday, March 10, Francesco Molinari found himself in a position of opportunity.
It was the final hole for him at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and a 45-foot putt would put him up two shots on the hot-swinging Matthew Fitzpatrick, who sat in second place.
Picking out his nine-iron, Molinari hovered over the ball as the crowd fell silent. With one fell swoop, he struck it with absolute precision, and the ball seemingly was pulled on a string that draws it to the hole.
The shot was met with thunderous applause, as Molinari capped off the day with a birdie — his eighth of the day — that left him sitting at 64 (12-under par).
“Yeah, obviously super happy the way I did it today — I tried to be aggressive from the start and it was nice to see quite a lot of putts dropping,” Molinari said. “And it’s nice to do it, obviously in those circumstances, at Arnie’s place. (I) just tried to stay aggressive until the end and then obviously (at the) 18, that flag kind of tempts you in, but my caddie (told) me to go a little left and just give myself a long putt.
“And I don’t know, there must be something going on with that line, because it seems that a lot of guys winning the tournament make that putt,” he said.
But then came the hardest part — the wait.
All Molinari had was time, as he sat around in the locker room for nearly two hours watching the remaining golfers who were still out on the greens — including the final group of Fitzpatrick and 2018 API winner Rory McIlroy.
“It’s easier to keep some sort of control when you’re hitting the shots — when it’s not up to you it’s not a very nice feeling,” Molinari said. “I said this after I won the Open Championship last year. I didn’t enjoy that half-an-hour (wait) at all, and I didn’t enjoy today at all watching the other guys. But obviously when you get it done, then at the end it’s a great feeling.”
Luckily for Molinari, his tournament-best score of 64 during the fourth round was enough to seal his win. Fitzpatrick finished with a 71 on the day — good enough to finish second overall at 10-under.
The win — Molinari’s third PGA Tour victory in his last 12 starts — wasn’t without its difficulties. In the opening round Thursday, March 7, Molinari picked up a double bogey on the fourth hole and a bogey on the 10th. Fortunately, an eagle on the par-3 seventh hole and four straight birdies on holes 12 through 15 helped him finish the day at 3-under.
The second and third round didn’t offer any repreive. He shot 2-under on Friday before shooting his tournament worst Saturday at 2-over. That forgettable Saturday, during which Molinari bogeyed on the second and eighth holes — while only picking up a single birdie on the 12th green — sent the Italian into the final day five shots behind Fitzpatrick.
But then came Sunday, when Molinari stormed back to the front of the leaderboard — stunning the likes of Fitzpatrick and others.
“It’s phenomenal,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s obviously holed a lot of putts to do that, because you can’t get close to these pins. There’s no way that he’s knocked it to (within) six feet on every hole, the greens were so firm and fast. But he played very, very well to shoot that, and hats off to him.”
With the win, along with a purse of just more than $1.6 million, Molinari climbs way up the FedExCup standings to No. 20 (up from No. 151) as he prepares for The Players Championship this week.
“Obviously, The Players next week is one of those weeks that you circle in the calendar at the beginning of the year,” Molinari said. “I had quite a long off-season, but I was hoping to hit form around The Players and things have gone even better than I thought.”