ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — British Open champion Francesco Molinari delivered another big moment on the 18th green at Bay Hill, without wearing a red shirt — and leaving the flag stick in the cup. His 45-foot birdie putt capped an 8-under 64 to come from five shots behind Sunday and win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Molinari watched the birdie putt kiss off the pin and into the cup, and the normally reserved Italian raised his fist and hammered it down in celebration, knowing that would make him hard to beat.
He started so far back that Molinari finished nearly two hours before the round ended. It gave him a two-shot lead at 12-under 276, and no one got closer than two shots the rest of the way.
“To do it here at Arnie’s place, knowing my wife and kids are watching from home, it’s very special,” Molinari said.
He won for the fourth time in the last nine months, and in his first start since signing a new equipment deal.
Tiger Woods, who missed this week with a sore neck, has delivered so many birdie putts over the year on the 18th, usually to win and with Palmer on the side of the green waiting to congratulate him. Molinari’s was longer than anything Woods ever made, from a slightly different angle. But he knew the history from so many highlights.
“It’s a pretty iconic putt,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I’m the first guy to make it with the flag in, though, so that’s the real difference.”
The new Rules of Golf allow the flag to be left in for putts in the green, and most players leave it there on long putts.
Molinari has four victories worldwide in his last 17 starts over the last nine months.