Molinari wins, Baddeley fades at Bay Hill

Francesco Molinari has fired an eight-under 64 to win the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational while Australian Aaron Baddeley slumped to tied 17th.

11-Mar-2019 By Evin Priest, Australian Associated Press
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Arnold Palmer Invitational winner Francesco Molinari hopes his rapid ascension to the top ranks in world golf inspires a generation of golfers in his native Italy.

Swashbuckling, seven-time major winner Arnold Palmer, who died in 2016, was credited with popularising golf during the 1960s and '70s.

Molinari hopes he has the same effect in football-mad Italy.

"I'm doing my best," world No.7 Molinari said with a grin.

Molinari drained a 44-foot birdie putt on the 18th at Bay Hill to shoot an eight-under-par 64 and in the two hours that followed, none of the final groups could match his 12 under (276) total.

Molinari beat overnight leader Matthew Fitzpatrick (71) by two shots, while Tommy Fleetwood (68) Sungjae Im (68) and Rafa Cabrera-Bello (69) shared third place at nine under.

Molinari started the final round five shots from the lead but secured his fourth worldwide win in 10 months with a sizzling final round.

It also came with a $US1.6 million ($A2.3m) winner's prize.

Molinari became Italy's first major champion when he claimed last year's British Open - in addition to victories at the European Tour's flagship BMW PGA Championship and his maiden PGA Tour title at the Quicken Loans event.

The 5-foot-8 golfer grew up in northern Italy's Turin, home of European football powerhouse Juventus FC.

But golf was not a popular sport.

"(Access) wasn't particularly cheap or easy; we were just lucky our family was into golf and that's how we got into it," Molinari said.

"(Italians are not) exposed to that much golf, but 'Arnie' was such a global icon that this tournament was one that we watched, my brother and I, at home many times.

"We have the (2022) Ryder Cup coming (to Italy), so hopefully they can make the most of it.

"I hope kids are watching me, like I was watching Costantino (Rocca) many years ago and, in a few years from now, I'll be sitting on the couch watching some other Italian kid playing on the PGA Tour."

Meanwhile, Australia's Aaron Baddeley started the final day just two shots from the lead but faded with a 74.

Baddeley squandered a chance to claim his first PGA Tour win since July 2016 and claim one of the automatic exemptions to this year's British Open - which were awarded to the top-three finishers not already exempt.

They went to South Koreans Im and Sung Kang and American Keith Mitchell.

Australian Marc Leishman, the 2017 winner at Bay Hill, signed off with a respectable 70 to earn a four-under total and a share of 23rd.


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