Francesco Molinari came from five shots behind to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational by two shots with a bogey-free eight-under 64
Francesco Molinari closed out an eight-under 64 during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a 44-foot birdie putt on the 18th that would ultimately seal his two-shot victory over Matthew Fitzpatrick.
The Open Champion had an agonising wait for over an hour to find out his fate, finishing well ahead of overnight leader Fitzpatrick, who had been five shots ahead of Molinari when the Italian had started his round.
But both Fitzpatrick and his compatriot Matt Wallace, who eagled the 16th hole, were left needing to birdie both of the closing holes to force a play-off with Molinari. Instead, Wallace finished with back-to-back bogeys while Fitzpatrick couldn't manage better than a couple of pars. His playing partner and defending champion Rory McIlroy failed to get much going after catching Fitzpatrick's lead early, and struggled to a level-par 72 to finish at eight-under.
For Molinari, it meant a two-shot victory at Bay Hill, and his first since claiming the Open Championship in July last year.
"It's great, to do it here, to get it done here at this place knowing that my wife and the kids were watching back home, it's just a special, special one," Molinari said of his victory.
"it's high up there with the best wins I've had. He [Arnold Palmer] was a special player but most of all a special person and a global icon for the game. For someone like me coming from Italy, he and Jack [Nicklaus] were up there as gods, so to win here is truly special."
The Italian holed some 146 feet of putts during the final round, gaining 4.237 over the field on the greens in what he dubbed his 'best putting round ever' - an impressive accolade for the new Odyssey putter in his bag.
But it wasn't the only club in his bag to provide some magic this week, having aced the par-three 7th hole on Thursday with his brand new Apex Pro 19 4-iron, two days after announcing that he had signed a multi-year equipment deal with Callaway.
"I don't know, I'm just super glad," said Molinari. "First week as a Callaway player, so happy to see that the switch I made wasn't as crazy as some people thought. The clubs are good for me and I showed it this week.
"I need to say thank you to the Callaway team because they fit it into the, fitted me into the new clubs very smoothly and it's been a very easy transition.
"I was saying before, it's probably my best putting round ever. I started making two great putts at the 1st and 2nd for birdie and par and then just kept going, hit the ball reasonably well, I won't say it was my best, but, yeah, the putting was just incredible."
Sitting five shots adrift of the Fitzpatrick, Molinari quickly made up ground. He followed a 20-footer for birdie at the first with two more gains at the third and sixth holes before holing out from the rough on the eighth.
From there, back-to-back birdies came on the 12th and 13th holes to get the Italian in to a tie for the lead at 10-under-par with Fitzpatrick, who had birdied the par-five fourth.
A tap-in birdie at the par-five 16th soon after for Molinari put him ahead, and he set the clubhouse target just two holes later with his enormous putt on the final hole. As he pointed out in his press conference, there have been a lot of famous putts on that hole over the years, but he's probably the first to do it with the flag in.
"Yeah, it's a pretty iconic putt," said Molinari. "I'm pretty sure I'm the first guy to make it with the flag in though, so that's the real difference. No, yeah, obviously you're trying to lag it close to the hole and it came out on a great line and maybe a little firmer than I wanted, but the line was just right and incredible to see it going in. Like you said, I've seen so many putts on TV like that and to do it yourself it's really amazing."
Yet while Molinari had a day to remember on the greens, behind him the final pairing of Fitzpatrick and McIlroy struggled to consolodate on chances; McIlroy had irons in to all four of the par-fives but made just one birdie. His T6 finish with Wallace, Sung Kang and last week's winner Keith Mitchell is McIlroy's fifth consecutive top 10 on Tour.
But they weren't the only players to falter. Rafa Cabrera Bello also got to 10-under-par with Fitzpatrick but found the water on the 18th, costing him a bogey and dropping him in to a tie for third with Sunjae Im and Tommy Fleetwood, who had held the 54-hole lead before dropping back with a third round 74 before a 68 on Sunday.