British Open champion Francesco Molinari sank a 45-foot birdie putt to cap a round of 8-under-par 64 that allowed him to come from five shots behind Sunday and win the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando.
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.
Molinari started so far back that he finished playing nearly two hours before the round ended. His final putt 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 after he won for the fourth time in the past nine months.
Tiger Woods, who missed this week with a sore neck, has delivered so many birdie putts over the years on No. 18, usually to win and with Palmer on the side of the green waiting to congratulate him. Molinari’s was longer than any Woods has made on the hole, and was 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.”
Matt Fitzpatrick managed only two birdies in his round of 71 and made a 3-foot par putt to finish alone in second.
PGA Tour Champions: In Newport Beach (Orange County), Kirk Triplett made a 12-foot eagle putt on the second hole of a playoff with Woody Austin to win the Hoag Classic for his seventh victory on the tour.
Triplett forced the playoff with a similar left-to-right breaker for birdie on the par-5 18th, then matched Austin with a par on their first extra trip down the tree-lined hole.
Playing in the same group, Triplett and Austin each shot 3-under 68 to finish at 10-under 203 at Newport Beach Country Club.
Jeff Maggert and Scott McCarron finished a stroke out of the playoff.
European Tour: Justin Harding birdied three of the last four holes in a round of 6-under 66 to win the Qatar Masters by two strokes and earn his first European Tour title.
Harding finished at 13-under 275, ahead of a group in second that included George Coetzee (68), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (68), Erik Van Rooyen (70) and overnight leader Oliver Wilson.
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