Tuesday 26 March 2019

Rory McIlroy has played in the final pairing nine tournaments in the past 13 months and has failed to win any of them

Rory McIlroy makes his putt on the first green during yesterday’s final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
Rory McIlroy makes his putt on the first green during yesterday’s final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy's final-round hoodoo struck again when he failed to find his Midas touch and finished tied sixth behind a sensational Francesco Molinari in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

The world No 6 has now gone out in the final group nine times worldwide over the past 13 months and come up empty-handed each time.

While he came from two behind to win from the penultimate group at Bay Hill last year, carding a blistering 64 to triumph by three, it was Open champion Molinari (36) who closed with an eight-under 64 this time to win his third PGA Tour title by two strokes from overnight leader Matt Fitzpatrick, who shot 71, on 12-under.

The man from Turin gained 4.229 shots on the field on the green, and 6.3 strokes on McIlroy, who made just one significant putt in a pedestrian level-par 72 to finish four behind the winner on eight-under par.

Mood The opposition was in no mood to gift McIlroy anything last night, and it was Molinari who applied all the pressure with a near faultless performance down the stretch.

McIlroy's putting was excellent for the first three rounds, but he found himself four strokes behind when Molinari, putting with the pin in the hole, sank a 44-footer on the last for a 64 that set a formidable target.

Graeme McDowell plays a shot from a bunker on the first at yesterday’s round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
Graeme McDowell plays a shot from a bunker on the first at yesterday’s round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

The Italian produced one the best putting rounds of his life, holing a 146-feet of putts in a round that also featured a chip-in birdie at the eighth.

"Today I went out, and I have to say it was probably one the best putting rounds of my career," said Molinari who, ironically, played alongside McIlroy when he shot 64 to win a year ago.

McIlroy looked to be heading for another hot day when he rolled in a 27-footer for a birdie at the third to draw level with Fitzpatrick on nine-under. But he made too many course management errors from there, failing to birdie either the par-five fourth or sixth with irons in his hand.

He then bogeyed the par-three seventh to fall back to eight-under as Molinari birdied the first, third, sixth, eighth, 12th, 13th and 16th before delivering the coup de grace on the 18th

McIlroy, on the other hand, failed to chip and putt for birdie at the par-five 12th and needing four birdies in his last four holes to tie, bogeyed the 15th to fall five behind and then missed a ten-footer for eagle at the 16th.

It was also a day to forget for Portrush's Graeme McDowell, who will have to wait a little longer to book his ticket home for The Open.

The 2010 US Open champion (39) was desperate to clinch a top 10 spot in Orlando and one of three precious places in the game's oldest Major.

But having started the day just two shots outside the top-10, he got off to a horrific start and carded a six-over-par 78 to finish 54th on two-over, mixing three birdies with two bogeys, two double-bogeys and a triple-bogey.

On the European Tour, globe-trotting South African Justin Harding (33) won at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters - his fifth win in 10 months - to continue his meteoric rise.

Ranked outside the world's top 500 just 12 months ago, he's now on the fringes of the top 50 and a Masters invitation after he birdied three of his last four holes to shoot 66 and set the target at 13-under par.

He faced a nervous wait of almost an hour, but nobody could catch him and compatriots Christiaan Bezuidenhout, George Coetzee and Erik van Rooyen, Spaniards Jorge Campillo and Nacho Elvira, Swede Anton Karlsson, Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera, England's Oliver Wilson and Choi all finished in a European Tour record nine-way tie for second.

On the Symetra Tour, Cavan's Leona Maguire closed with a one-over 73 in the SkyiGolf Championship at Charlotte Harbor National Golf Club to finish tied for 25th on three-under par.

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