Molinari putting together a record that's hard to ignore

ABS-CBN Sports on Mar 13, 2019 07:53 AM
Molinari putting together a record that's hard to ignore
Francesco Molinari, of Italy, celebrates after sinking a putt for birdie on the 18th green during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. Molinari won the tournament by two strokes. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

By Doug Ferguson, Associated Press

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Francesco Molinari might not look like the modern version of an Arnold Palmer, a player who makes people watch because of his ability to charge from behind with clutch shots, big putts and low scores.

He just plays one on TV.

And if he keeps winning like this, he might even get on TV more often.

It was hard to ignore the company Molinari kept last week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He was not part of the featured groups that get streaming coverage, which was fine. Those rotate each week, and the Italian will be in one this week alongside Tony Finau and Jason Day.

But at Bay Hill, the PGA Tour put him with two players not among the top 100 in the world ranking.

That was unusual, especially for a British Open winner coming off a year that rivals what Brooks Koepka had with his two majors. It was similar to 1999 at Bay Hill, when Colin Montgomerie, a six-time European Tour money winner, had one of the earliest tee times because he was not a PGA Tour member.

Molinari handled it much better.

"Obviously I see it, but I don't pay too much attention to it," Molinari said after his 64 to rally from five shots behind and win for the fourth time in his last 17 starts worldwide. "I was playing two tournament winners, anyway. I go about doing my own stuff and minding my own business. It's not really bothering me wherever they put me in the tee times, as long as it ends up like this."

One thing is clear: Molinari is worth watching.

Four of his eight career victories have come in the last nine months, three of them counting as PGA Tour titles.

The PGA Tour does not recognize one of his best performances of all, the 2010 HSBC Champions in Shanghai, because that was when the tour counted that World Golf Championship as official only if a PGA Tour member won. Molinari beat Lee Westwood — in his debut at No. 1 in the world — by one shot, and no one else was closer than 10 shots. Rory McIlroy was 11 shots behind. Tiger Woods finished 12 back.

Four players have shot 64 or better in the final round four times on the PGA Tour since 2017. Molinari is on that short list with Koepka, Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland. He doesn't have their power. He doesn't have their flash. He just gets results, which is what matters in this game.

Molinari always hit his irons well and chipped as well as anyone. He was short by tour standards but relatively straight. Putting was his weakness. That was then. What has emerged in his hard work with Denis Pugh is a complete player, and it shows.

His first big test was going head-to-head with McIlroy at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, the flagship event in Europe, which Molinari won.

Instead of going to the French Open, site of the Ryder Cup later in the year, he wanted to improve his FedEx Cup standing and played the Quicken Loans National at the TPC Potomac. Molinari shot 62 in the final round to break the tournament record by seven shots and win by eight.

He played the final 37 holes of the British Open at Carnoustie without a bogey and became Italy's first major champion. If all that wasn't enough, Molinari became the first European to go 5-0 in the Ryder Cup.

And now he has a red cardigan from winning at Arnie's place, where he played the last 28 holes without a bogey and shot 64.

His record would suggest he is among the elite in golf. Molinari looks at it differently.

"I don't think I'm ever going to think that way. It's not my personality," he said. "I'm definitely more confident. I'm not scared about going out on the golf course playing against anyone, but it's just really hard for me to picture myself where I am at the moment. Hopefully, someday I'll be able to. Maybe it's the background as coming from Italy. There's very few guys getting on tour, let alone doing this sort of stuff.

"But I'll just keep doing what I'm doing, and hopefully, things will follow suit."

Molinari played the final round at Carnoustie with Woods, who briefly had the lead and always had the enormous crowd on his side. Molinari wasn't the least bit intimidated and became only the second player — Y.E. Yang in the 2009 PGA Championship was the other — to win a major playing alongside Woods on Sunday.

The claret jug doesn't get out much. Molinari took it with him for a few weeks after he won the Open, but he usually left it in the case. At home in London, he says, he keeps it in the middle of a few books on a shelf in his living room. It's his only trophy on display, and "it's nice to look at sometimes."

"I don't need to show off what I've won," Molinari said. "All the trophies at home are not really in sight. It's just the way I am. I don't do it to show off with other people. I do it for the satisfaction I get when the 18th putt goes in the hole."

The last putt at Bay Hill was from 45 feet. Molinari twirled his raised fist in the air and dropped it like a hammer when the putt fell.

It made for great TV.

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