What you missed: Victories, near-misses, a European Tour record and the good, the bad and the ugly.
Francesco Molinari closed his third PGA Tour victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational just days after announcing a new equipment deal with Callaway, coming from five shots behind to win by two.
On the other side of the world Justin Harding earned his maiden European Tour victory as a record nine players finished in second place, while England’s Meghan MacLaren successfully defended her title in Australia.
But it was another disappointing near-miss for Rory McIlroy, who insists on remaining positive about his fifth consecutive top 10 this year, as well as for Tiger Woods and Jason Day, who pulled out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with injuries.
Elsewhere, tributes pour in for golf writer Dan Jenkins, Ernie Els talks about why he won’t miss the Masters, and we pull together the good, the bad and the ugly shots and social media posts from the week.
Francesco Molinari wins Arnold Palmer Invitational after announcing new equipment deal with Callaway
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 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 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.”
And he did it just days after announcing an equipment deal with Callaway.
“I don’t know, I’m just super glad,” said Molinari, who made an ace on the par-three 7th on Thursday with his new four iron and made 146 feet of putts on Sunday with a new Odyssey putter.
“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 was saying before, it’s probably my best putting round ever.”
Justin Harding earns maiden European Tour title as record nine-way tie for 2nd place
Justin Harding birdied three of his last four holes to claim his first European Tour title at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters by two strokes.
But while 33-year-old may have just claimed his maiden victory on the European Tour, it was far from a familiar feeling for Harding, whose win at Doha Golf Club was his fifth win in the last nine months.
He’s been a seriel winner on both the Asian and Sunshine Tours, and the South African bested a packed leaderboard with a final round six-under 66 to earn his first title on the European Tour after 54 starts.
“It’s fantastic,” said Harding. “It’s still sinking in. I didn’t quite think it was enough, I thought there might be a play-off but I’m happy to get over the line eventually. I’ve been knocking on the door a little recently. It’s rewarding seeing the hard graft and change in mindset – seeing what’s involved and what’s going on. I’m really happy.”
“I had to stay patient,” said Haring. “I got off to a good start, made a couple of birdies and lost my head around the turn. My caddie Alan said we’re still in it and to make a couple on the back. I managed to keep myself in it and made a couple. I birdied 17 and 18, which was huge. I didn’t think 13 was clear, I thought there would be a play-off with how scores were looking on the back nine, but I’m happy to get over the line.”
Yet while he was the man to catch, the chasing pack battled it out for second place. With a few holes to go only Nacho Elvira and Oliver Wilson had a chance to catch Harding, but despite final hole birdies both men would finish in a European Tour record nine-way tie for second place. They joined early clubhouse leader Jinho Choi, Erik Van Rooyen, George Coetzee, Christian Bezuidenhout, Jorge Campillo, Anton Karlsson, and Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
Rory postive despite fifth near-miss in 2019 at Arnold Palmer Invitational
It was another difficult Sunday for Rory McIlroy at Bay Hill as the defending champion went from an early share of the lead to a tie for 6th place, his fifth consecutive event worldwide where he’s finished inside the top six.
While his top-10 consistency is undoubtedly the best on Tour right now, his latest placing gives out a startling stat: McIlroy has now failed to win the last nine times he has played in the final group on Sunday (since the start of 2018).
Asked if he could take any positives from another missed opportunity or if he was feeling ‘over’ the moral victories, McIlroy was adamant that he was only acknowledging the good.
“No, not at all,” said McIlroy. “I’m playing well, I’m getting myself into contention every week, continue to do that, going into next week, that’s the great thing about golf, you don’t have to wait too long to get back on the horse. So, no, I’m happy with everything, I just think today I could have played the par-5s better, but really apart from that it was an unbelievable round from Francesco to shoot what he did.
And the multiple major champion insisted he isn’t dwelling on the negatives of his new playing in the final group record.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re final group, fifth group, it’s golf at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter,” he continued.
“I’m playing well, I would much rather be putting myself in position to have a chance to win. I’m playing good golf, it doesn’t matter if I’m playing that golf on Thursday, Friday, Saturday — yeah, my Sundays haven’t been what I would have liked, but I’m putting myself in that position, so good golf is good golf, I keep saying that, at the end of the day.”
Im, Mitchell & Kang qualify for The Open
Sunjae Im, Keith Mitchell and Sung Kang have secured their places in The 148thOpen at Portrush after qualifying at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
Im, Mitchell and Kang secured the three qualifying spots at the latest Open qualifying series event, which was the first time it was hosted by the Arnold Palmer Invitational. By finishing T3 (Im) T6 (Mitchell, Kang), the three men are set to play at Royal Portrush from 14-21 July this year.
Francesco Molinari claimed the title with an impressive bogey-free 64 during the final round at Bay Hill, finishing two strokes clear of Matthew Fitzpatrick. But with both players already exempt for the final major of the year, Im became the first player to qualify thanks to a four-under 68 on Sunday.
Tommy Fleetwood and Rafa Cabrera Bello also ended up with Im on nine-under, but as both players were also exempt, it fell to the players on eight-under-par.
Mitchell, who secured his first victory on the PGA Tour at last week’s Honda Classic, carded eight birdies on Sunday to post a 66, and will now make his debut at the Open in July.
Kang, who also finished sixth, is no stranger to the Open Qualifying Series. It’s the third time he’s qualified for the Open this way, and the four-time Korean Tour winner is definitely looking forward to it.
“I made a big putt on the last hole to get the spot and the opportunity to play in The Open again,” said Kang, who came through qualifying in both 2017 and 2018. “I’m just going to go out and enjoy the experience like I did at Royal Birkdale and Carnoustie.
Tributes pour in for Dan Jenkins: (December 2, 1928 – March 7, 2019)
Dan Jenkins, the author, Hall of Fame and Golf Digest writer, died on Thursday night at the age of 89 – and the world of golf was quick to pay tributes to the legendary writer.
“The message on my tombstone will be, ‘I knew this would happen,’ ” Jenkins always said, exemplifying the trenchant humor he brought to the 232 major championships he attended, starting with the 1941 U.S. Open at Colonial he attended as a 12-year-old in his hometown.
Jenkins, who was once dubbed “the quintessential Sports Illustrated writer” and “the best sportswriter in America” by Larry King, covered his first major at the 1951 Masters and had an impressive streak of 179 major championships, ending when health kept him from attending The Open Championship in 2014.
He was the author of several books including a memoir called, “His Ownself” and best-sellers included “Semi-Tough,” “Baja Oklahoma” and “Dead Solid Perfect.”
Jenkins was inducted in to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012: Read his speech here.
One tribute, from his long time colleague, Tom Callahan, was particularly moving.
Meg MacLaren defends Women’s NSW Open
It was a different course but the same result as Meghan MacLaren successfully defended her maiden Ladies European Tour title at the Women’s New South Wales Open on Sunday, defeating New Zealand’s Munchin Keh and Swede Lynn Carlsson by three shots.
MacLaren had begun the final round in a tie for the lead with Carlsson and despite losing the lead twice held her nerve to close out with an eagle-par-birdie finish in Queanbeyan Golf Club. A double-bogey from Keh, who had until that point been six-under, pushed her two shots behind, and McLaren closed out the birdie for a final round two-under 69.
In doing so, the 24-year-old became the only player to shoot all four rounds under-par.
“I wish I could play all of my golf in New South Wales,” said MacLaren afterwards. “It’s a bit of a weird one, because it’s not at the same course, so it almost doesn’t feel like the same tournament. It must be something about Australia and coming to the end of the whole trip.
“It was pretty gritty out there for a long time and quite nerve wracking. As much as you want it to be like the last few days and all controlled and straight forward, it just wasn’t like that. I had to hang in there and even though I dropped a couple of shots, I knew that things were going to be close and nobody was running away with it and I just hoped for a moment of magic somewhere and it happened.
“It’s funny, I had almost the same shot yesterday where I had to hit a 30, 40 yard cut with a 3-wood around the trees and I pulled it off yesterday, so I thought, ‘I know I’ve done it; I know I need something.’ I knew the lead had gone to 11-under at that point, so I was chasing and as soon as I hit it, I hoped that it would be right and it was.”
“Last year was my first win and that was a big deal and I don’t think anything can compare to that. You don’t want to be a one-win wonder. There was a bit more pressure this week, so to come through that feels amazing.
“The lead got to 11-under, so I needed something at that point and I found it, so it’s always going to be special for me.”
Ernie Els: ‘I won’t miss the place’
Ernie Els last played the Masters in 2017 and at World No. 363 the likelihood is he won’t be back, but while that would be a blow to the large majority of professional golfers, Els isn’t in mourning.
“To be honest with you, I won’t miss the place,” Els told The New York Post on Friday after missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. “I had enough of it – especially the last five years I played it terribly.”
Els had a run of five consecutive top fives which included runner-up finishes in both 2000 and 2004, but the last few years have been less kind. A T13 in 2013 was followed by a MC-T22-MC-53, and failed to qualify last year. In 2016, his MC came after he six-putted from on the opening hole.
“When a thing stings you it keeps stinging you,” Els said. “When it gives to you it keeps on giving. I’ve seen that with Gary Player. I’ve seen it with Jack [Nicklaus]. I’ve got a love-hate relationship with the place. It was always almost like a curse to me. It was not a romantic deal to me.
“It was a f–king nightmare for the most part.”
“You start disliking the place when you shouldn’t,” Els said. “I try to keep my honor for the golf course and the people, because the members are great and the course is actually great. But it just doesn’t want to give me anything and then I was finally like, ‘You know what? That’s fine. Let’s move on.’
“It’s like, ‘Sh-t, it’s not giving me anything. How many times do you want to run into a wall?’ That how I felt my last couple of years. I didn’t want to say it before, and I don’t have any bad feelings about it. It’s just the way it is. I had enough of it. Move on. It’s a unique place, but I’m done with it. It’s done with me.”
Henrik Stenson’s caddie search continues
After just six events together Henrik Stenson and Scott Vail, who replaced long-time bag-man Gareth Lord, have parted ways – meaning the major champion is on the hunt for a full-time caddie.
Speaking to Yahoo, the Swede said that he and Vail parted ways after the WGC Mexico Championship, following the mutual decision that they weren’t ‘the best fit for each other.’ It came after three consecutive missed cuts in 2019 and a T54 at Club de Golf Chapultepec.
“We had two events on the back end of last year, three in the Middle East and [the WGC-Mexico Championship], and we just sat down after Mexico and asked, ‘How does it feel?’” Stenson said.
“Neither one of us felt like we were the best fit for each other. We are all in good spirits. I really like him, but we just felt like we didn’t connect 100 percent.”
Stenson had a job-share at the Arnold Palmer Invitational: His friend Marcus Larsson caddie for the first two days, while former caddie of five years Fanny Sunesson took over at the weekend as he finished T17.
Injury woes for Tiger Woods, Jason Day
Tiger Woods and Jason Day both caused doubt about whether or not either one will be fit enough to tee up at TPC Sawgrass for the Players Championship after struggling with injuries last week.
Woods pulled out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, an event he has won eight times in his career, citing a neck strain, although said he was hopeful that he’d be playing the following week.
Woods, who is currently the World No.12 and last won the event in 2013, said he was ‘disappointed’ to miss the tournament but insisted that his latest injury has not affected his back – which was fused in a fourth back surgery in 2017.
He said he hopes to be able to ready for The Players, which takes place at TPC Sawgrass from the 14-17 March.
“1) Unfortunately due to a neck strain that I’ve had for a few weeks, I’m forced to withdraw from the API” Woods tweeted. “I’ve been receiving treatment, but it hasn’t improved enough to play. My lower back is fine, and I have no long-term concerns, and I hope to be ready for The Players.”
“2) I’d like to send my regrets to the Palmer family and the Orlando fans. Its connection to Arnold makes it one of my favorite tournaments and I’m disappointed to miss it.”
Jason Day started his round on Thursday but played just six holes before withdrawing with back pain, and admitted it was something he’d gone to see a doctor about a week ago and it hadn’t improved as much as he had hoped.
“I (aggravated) it last Sunday,” he said, “and then got an MRI Monday, which came back that I had an annular tear in my disc, and then I’ve got set problems as well. My back was sore when I was practicing from Tuesday to Saturday, and I was going to practice on Sunday, but I woke up and couldn’t really walk or sit in the car.
“I was on a dose pack to try get the inflammation out of it,” he added, “and that didn’t get any better. I saw a physio here (in Orlando) and tried to do as much work as I possibly could to get ready for this week. I couldn’t play at 100 percent today, so I just wanted to see if I could get out here and (my back) may have loosened up. But, unfortunately, it didn’t, so I had to pull out.”
USGA backtrack, European’s defend governing bodies and PGA Tour commissioner tells players to ‘use their voice constructively’
The overspill of rules issues from the previous week ended with some pretty amazing back-tracking from the USGA over comments they made to Justin Thomas, which he called ‘upsetting’ and ‘inaccurate’.
On Monday, the PGA Tour’s commissioner Jay Monahan sent a memo to players after another week which saw rules issues dominate the headlines, asking players to ‘use their voice constructively’ while talking about the ongoing ‘collaborative process’ of implementing the rules.
Since then, several European Tour pro’s jumped to the defence of the USGA and R&A,and it appears the USGA also had a change of heart about comments they made to Justin Thomas on twitter.
“After further and more direct conversations with @JustinThomas34, we realize he did not avoid a discussion with the USGA nor cancel any meetings,” the account tweeted. “We value his and all players’ opinions and are committed to a productive dialogue as the golf world adjusts to the modernized rules.”
Social media: Good, bad & the ugly
A lot of hilarity came out of Eddie Pepperell’s fashion choices at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He was wearing Jack Nicklaus socks during a third round 68, and wrote on twitter: “Heads up, before it breaks the internet….; I wore Jack Nicklaus ‘86 Stance socks today around Arnie’s place and shot a 68. I kinda feel bad…”
Jack Nicklaus later gave him his approval.
Phil Mickelson might have carded an opening 68 on his return to Bay Hill, but everyone was talking about what happened at the par-four 10th.
His wayward drive left his ball on the better side of an out-of-bounds fence by a couple of inches, but as he wasn’t allowed to move the fence Mickelson had two options: take a drop, or play it as it lies. He decided on the latter, but needed to stand on the wrong side of the fence and attempt a right-handed swing, and it didn’t go to plan: The ball got caught up inside the fence and then dropped down out of bounds.
“I actually thought I could get that on the green. I really did,” Mickelson said. “I had 117 (yards) front and tried to flip a 9-iron over. I thought the ball was going to take off fine. I had clean contact with it, I thought, and it obviously didn’t work out.”
“Obviously I hit it, and the fence moved forward enough to grab the ball. I thought I was going to hit the ball first and it was going to get out in front of the fence. I thought it was going to be fine. I didn’t think it was an issue.”
The old rules would have seen him re-drop, but the new rule left him drop within one club-length of his original shot, and he ended up with a double-bogey.
“That definitely helped,” he said. “I didn’t want to play that shot again.”
Bonus: Speaking of shots being played the wrong way, how’s this for Dustin Johnson’s left-handed skills that surfaced last week?
Standing on the 18th green with a putt for birdie from inside 10-feet, Jeff Maggart five-putted and ended up five-over for the tournament. Ouch.
And we don’t think it’s quite as bad as he does, but Tyrrell Hatton asked his caddie if he had ‘seen a worse golf shot?’, so it’s in here this week.