Monday 11 March 2019 4:52 pm

Sam Torrance: Sublime Francesco Molinari is at the top of his game and can win the Masters

Spectacular finishes seem to be part of the fabric of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and this year it was Francesco Molinari’s turn to take the title at Bay Hill with a sublime performance.

Just as Rory McIlroy had 12 months earlier, Open champion Molinari carded a magnificent final round of 64 on Sunday at this notoriously difficult course to put a high-class field in the shade.

Even when it looked like he might falter and drop a shot, such as when he found thick rough at the back of the eighth green, he conjured some magic, chipping in for a great birdie.

But it was his putting on the final day that separated Molinari from the rest. He rated this the best he had ever putted – given his previous wins, that’s a very high bar and all the more remarkable because he has just switched to Callaway balls and clubs.

The Ryder Cup hero underlined the point – and upheld tradition at this event – by draining a 43-foot putt for birdie at the last hole.

After a landmark 2018, Molinari looks to be at the top of his game. He never forces it, which is one of his biggest assets and a reason why he has a strong record in final rounds.

His swing is one of the simplest I’ve ever seen; mechanically, it is so sound. When the pressure is on it’s easy to put extra force into shots, but you never see him lashing the ball.

It all bodes well for Molinari’s hopes of adding to last year’s breakthrough Major in the coming months. As we’ve noted before, the big events are a sprint this year so players are keener to get into top form.

He’ll be right up there, so why not the Masters? From what I gather, he has gained distance off the tee and that could make a hell of a difference on certain holes at Augusta next month.

Molinari’s success crowned what was a wonderful week for the European contingent. At one stage the top seven on the leaderboard were from this side of the Atlantic; in the end, it was six of the top nine.


Fitzpatrick and McIlroy edged out

I felt for Matt Fitzpatrick, who led overnight and played great all day but got a little bit unlucky and had to settle for outright second place – his best finish so far this season.

Defending champion McIlroy also played beautifully but an even-par final round of 72 left him in a share of sixth. It was a fifth top-six in a row; if he knocked in a few putts it could be very different.

He’ll be well aware that he has had a few bad Sundays and will always be looking at ways he can improve, but I don’t think he’ll be worrying and will be excited that the Masters is on the horizon.

Rory could be a big contender at The Players Championship this week. Like Augusta, Sawgrass is a course he knows like the back of his hand and I’m sure he’d love to get a win under his belt before the Masters.

Hooray for Harding

There was another great finish elsewhere on Sunday, when Justin Harding won his first European Tour title at the Qatar Masters.

The South African birdied two of the last three holes in a final round of 66 to pull clear of an extraordinary nine-man tie for second place.

The win has put Harding on the brink of the world top 50 and an invite to the Masters, so well done to him.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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