Going into Sunday most observers quite fancied a European victory at Bay Hill, just not this one. While the Rory McIlroy victory stats were being prepared it was another member of the world’s top 10, Francesco Molinari, who did what McIlroy did 12 months ago – close with a 64 and sign it off with a birdie on the iconic 18th.
A glance down the Bay Hill leaderboard midway through the final round and you’d be excused for thinking this was the Dutch Open such was the European dominance.
The Rory train began to wobble as the shoulders began to slump a little but then there was Matt Fitzpatrick, looking for his first (professional) win in the States while we still had the possibility of a trademark final-round charge from the likes of Tommy Fleetwood or Matt Wallace?
Whatever it was, this was a chance for the Europeans to notch a victory after plenty of American dominance on both tours.
And then we got the most brutal and brilliant reminder of how clinical a finisher Molinari has become. From his first 120 starts on the PGA Tour there were no wins to speak of, now there have been three in his last 12.
One of which was The Open which, despite not being a regular PGA Tour event, was still quite important….
Well I never, the spirit of Johnny Miller is very much alive. Young Molinari did win the Open last year, by Jove. Majestic. pic.twitter.com/PElFTaMa3e
— Tweeter Alliss (@TweeterAlliss) March 10, 2019
It’s seemingly easy to forget about Molinari; he’s less outspoken than all his peers, he probably has an opinion on the new Rules of Golf but we don’t know too much about them and we don’t have to watch too many clips of him lifting dead weights or hear about some new clothes that he’s promoting.
This week he started out as a 33-1 chance but, thankfully, a few people rated him worth a bet – he’d had three top 10s at Bay Hill in the past five years – and he was backed into 25s.
The simple truth is that he was only as low as 10th on the world rankings given how little he’s played in recent months.
The only time he’d been on our radar this year, after catching his daughter’s flu kept him out of Riviera and Mexico, was when he announced that he would be playing a full bag of Callaway clubs along with a new ball and Odyssey Toulon putter.
Much the same as Justin Rose and his deal with Honma raised an eyebrow – why change clubs after getting to World No. 1/winning The Open (delete as applicable)?
Rose has already triumphed at Torrey Pines, Molinari is now a winner at Bay Hill.
Afterwards he said this was the best he had ever putted, his final effort coming from 44 feet and well worth a listen with the sound fully up..
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 10, 2019
In 2010 the Italian made his Ryder Cup debut under Colin Montgomerie. The Scot explained that part of the reason to also pick his brother was down to Francesco’s introverted personality.
“I selected his brother Edoardo to help Francesco out. He hasn’t got an outgoing personality, he’s the opposite to Ian Poulter, he might believe it but he’s not going to tell you. So I picked Edoardo as someone to confide in.”
It’s been said plenty of times before but, going into Le Golf National, he had yet to register a full point. Then, despite playing with a back injury for much of it, he delivered five of them.
“I didn’t tell Thomas (Bjorn),” Molinari said. “It wasn’t enough to really compromise my golf. So I just started taking some anti-inflammatories. It’s a week that you’re sort of pumped up with adrenaline, anyway, that you could probably play on one leg.”
Come the following morning he was unable to tie his own shoelaces.
After a start to the year where we’ve obsessed about the usual bits, like slow play, the usual suspects, like Tiger, Phil and Rory, and the unusual in the new rules, this was like welcoming back an old friend after some time apart.
Tommy’s best friend and now everybody’s favourite double act in the game. The two of them wanted to be paired together months before they arrived in France and, given Fleetwood was still a rookie and Molinari had yet to prove himself in the matches, it says plenty about the pair of them and their wisdom.
— PGA TOUR Communications (@PGATOURComms) March 10, 2019
When asked on Thursday if he felt different being a major champion Molinari gave what should be quite an ominous warning to his closest rivals.
“I feel more confident, obviously doing it once and winning tournaments like I did last year that I hadn’t done in the past has been a good boost of confidence and I think there’s still margins of improvement. If anything I feel better than last year, so hopefully it will be another good season ahead.”
On this evidence Molinari isn’t just talking himself up just for the sake of it, not that that’s his style.
This final stat should be enough to make Rory’s eyes water; this is proof of someone who loves nothing more than a weekend in the mix. The players all get it, Molinari’s a genuine superstar, it’s now time the rest of us cottoned on.
Bogey-free streaks to finish in @F_Molinari's last 4 worldwide wins:
'18 BMW PGA – last 44 holes
'18 Quicken Loans – last 28 holes
'18 Open – last 37 holes
'19 API – last 28 holes
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) March 10, 2019