Rory McIlroy fails to deliver again as Molinari shines in Florida

Being in the final pairing in the final round again failed to provide the desired result

Rory McIlroy during the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. Photograph: AP

Rory McIlroy during the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. Photograph: AP

 

Great expectations, as Rory McIlroy has discovered, have a way of evaporating when within touching distance. Yet again, being positioned in the final pairing in the final round of a tournament failed to provide the desired result for the Northern Irishman, who played out a minor role in the drama in the Arnold Palmer Invitational long after Francesco Molinari had stolen the lead part.

An audacious 44-feet birdie putt on the 18th hole brought an explosion of emotion to the normally deadpan Italian, as the British Open champion finished with a superb 64 for a total of 12-under-par 276 that enabled him to leapfrog from 17th at the start of the day to finish atop the leaderboard and scoop the $1.6 million winner’s cheque.

For McIlroy, the defending champion, the bid to make the first successful defence of a tournament in his career never got going. A closing round of 72 for 280 saw him finish in tied-sixth, four shots adrift of Molinari.

An early birdie putt - from 28 feet on the second - had proven to be a false dawn for McIlroy, who briefly looked set to challenge only to fail to get any forward momentum going.

Molinari’s round featured eight birdies, among them a chip-in from thick greenside rough on the difficult eighth but he reserved the best until last with a monster putt on the 18th that had him fist-pumping the air in delight. “It was one of my best putting rounds ever, the putting was just incredible,” admitted Molinari, of the magic he conjured up with the short stick.

“I thought (the chip-in on eight) was doable. And it came out perfect, soft and high and landed in the exact spot as I wanted and obviously, again, incredible to see it going in. But I did well to keep it going, keep pushing through the back nine. It’s not easy, this golf course, when it gets firm like this, you don’t get too many chances, so I’m really pleased with what I’ve done.”

Having started the day in 17th position, Molinari - just as McIlroy did a year ago – produced a final round charge that was spellbinding. Of that closing birdie putt, he observed: “It’s a pretty iconic putt. I’m pretty sure I’m the first guy to make it with the flag in though, so that’s the real difference. I’ve seen so many putts on TV like that and to do it yourself it’s really amazing.”

Confessing that he didn’t have any special gameplan going into the final round, Molinari credited his putter with providing the basis for the win. “You make some putts at the beginning, you get it rolling, you just keep the foot on the pedal,” he explained.”

Graeme McDowell was one of those with his eyes on an exemption into the Open at Royal Portrush. But those dreams of a top-10 finish turned into something of a nightmare, as a final round 78 - which included a triple bogey and two double bogeys – saw him plummet down the leaderboard.

McDowell fell down 37 spots to finish in tied-54th on two-over-par 290. His troubles started early with a double bogey five on the Par 3 second hole after his tee-shot found a rear bunker and he then ran up a triple bogey eight on the Par 5 fourth after a wild drive right forced him to take a penalty drop for an unplayable lie. He would suffer another double on the 16th, where he put his approach into the hazard.

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