Tiger Woods has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill eight times. From just 17 starts. Tiger’s career has been embellished by scores of extraordinary records, and that is certainly one of them. Which made his withdrawal on the eve of this year’s tournament, with a neck injury, all the more disappointing – not to mention concerning, with the Masters teeing off exactly a month today. More immediately, we shall have to wait a day or two longer to find out if he will be fit enough to compete in the Players Championship at Sawgrass, starting on Thursday.
Woods was thus denied the opportunity to win the event for the ninth time and take his record to a 50% win/start ratio. But somebody had to win and last night that person was identified as the man who played with Tiger in the final round of last year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie and won the title, the 36-year-old Italian Francesco Molinari. He trailed by six shots going into the final round here but produced a bogey-free 64, eight under par, a stupendous effort capped by the holing of a 15-yard putt for a birdie at the last.
Tommy Fleetwood has made it plain that he sees the next step on his career path to be a victory on the PGA Tour. A two-eagle round of 66 on Friday gave him a share of the halfway lead with Keegan Bradley. Fleetwood’s good play occurred despite (because of?) him not having a club contract. “Since Nike stopped making clubs,” he explained, “I’ve gone though different stages. I wasn’t going to mess around for a while because I was trying to get my game back to where I wanted it to be. I’ve got the luxury of trying everything out. I will get the club that’s ideal for me.”
In fact, last week he had six different equipment manufacturers represented in his golf bag. The wisdom of this philosophy looked less assured after Saturday, when a 76 dropped him to five under par and thus no longer low Brit. He trailed Matt Wallace by two, Rory McIlroy (the defending champion) by three and the leader, Matthew Fitzpatrick, by four. On Sunday he rallied strongly but his 68 was no match for Molinari’s fireworks, although it did lift him to nine under par and a tie for third, a shot adrift of Fitzpatrick (who closed with a 71 – “I feel like I should have won with the way I played, so I am disappointed”) and one clear of Wallace and McIlroy. Since the start of 2018, the latter has played in the final group on Sunday on nine occasions and he hasn’t won once. (His victory at Bay Hill last year was from behind.)
“A few years ago I probably wasn’t confident or comfortable enough being out there with some of these guys,” said the winner. I guess that’s what holding off Woods to win a major championship can do for you.
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