Francesco Molinari pulled a Rory McIlroy on Rory McIlroy. The reigning Open champion won the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational in the exact same manner as his Ryder Cup teammate did in 2018 -- with an 8-under 64 in the final round that included a long birdie at the 72nd hole.
Molinari's 64, the best round in the field on Sunday by two strokes, concluded nearly two hours before the leaders -- which coincidentally including McIlroy this year -- finished up their rounds. Nobody came close to touching his 12 under score for the week, as McIlroy's Round 4 playing partner, Matthew Fitzpatrick, came the closest at 10 under. It became obvious as Molinari's back nine unfolded early on Sunday afternoon that something special was taking place.
The Italian went out in 32 before making birdies at Nos. 12 and 13. He nearly jarred an albatross on No. 16 before settling for an easy birdie. Then came the curtain call on No. 18 -- a 44-foot birdie to go two clear of the field and, on a day when the field average was right at even par, effectively put the tournament out of reach.
Molinari, normally known for his roped irons and tight wedges, actually finished with much better driving and putting numbers than he did with his irons. The 44-foot close jumped him up to second on the day in putting and fourth on the week. It's problematic for whatever field Molinari is facing for the week if he's finished fourth in putting on the week.
The win is Molinari's fourth in the last calendar year, and there have been some gems. The BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour. The Quicken Loans National on the PGA Tour.
McIlroy started the day one back of Matthew Fitzpatrick's lead and shot an uninspired 72. It wasn't even a roller coaster of a 72. He was never more than 1 under or 1 over on the day and never even scared the lead over the last three hours of the event.
Rickie Fowler (T-40) finally had it cruising in the proper direction on Sunday afternoon before he was upended by a double bogey and a bogey late in the day to drop out of the top 25. Interestingly he tied another pair of Oklahoma State Cowboys on the opposite end of the career spectrum. Amateur Viktor Hovland and six-time PGA Tour winner Hunter Mahan both also finished at 1-under 287. It was a bit of a disappointment for Fowler following three straight finishes in the top 30 at this event and his runner-up finish last week at the Honda Classic. His big struggle this week was off the tee where he finished 64th in the field in driving (out of just 70). He'll have a chance to turn it around quickly at TPC Sawgrass next week.