Molinari rules Palmer

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - MARCH 10: Francesco Molinari of Italy poses with the trophy after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard at the Bay Hill Club on March 10, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images/AFP

MIAMI — Italy’s Francesco Molinari unleashed the greatest putting performance of his career on Sunday, firing a final-round eight-under par 64 to win the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational by two strokes.

The 36-year-old from Turin, who took an extended rest after a career-best 2018 campaign, sank every putt from inside 15 feet to charge from five shots back and finish on 12-under par 276 with a bogey-free final round at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida.

“Incredible,” Molinari said. “It’s high up there with the best wins I’ve had.”

An 18th-hole birdie from 43 feet closed out what reigning British Open champion Molinari called “probably my best putting round ever,” a claim supported by his 164.5 feet of putts made Sunday, the most by him in any US PGA round.

Molinari, Europe’s hero in last year’s Ryder Cup victory over the United States in France, sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the opening hole, made another birdie from 44 feet at the par-4 eighth, dropped yet another from 18 feet at the 13th and two-putted from 20 feet to birdie the par-5 16th.

“I could have done a lot more than that to be honest,” Molinari said. “It was really amazing to see.”

England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 54-hole leader by a stroke over Rory McIlroy, fired a 71 to settle for second on 278 with South Korea’s Im Sung-jae, England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello sharing third on 279.

Im took one of three available spots for the British Open to those not yet qualified with the others going to South Korean Kang Sung and American Keith Mitchell, who shared sixth on 280 with Northern Ireland’s McIlroy and England’s Matt Wallace.

For McIlroy, it marked the seventh time in the last 12 months that he played in the final group on the last day without a victory to show for it.

Molinari finished 90 minutes ahead of the final group, then watched the last 10 pairings reach the clubhouse trying in vain to match his magical run to a third win in his past 12 US PGA starts — this event named for one of Molinari’s sporting idols.