Arnold Palmer Invitational
March 03, 2020

Francesco Molinari diligently working to end post-Masters slide

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Francesco Molinari smiles and waves to fans as he walks to the 18th green during the final round of the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Photo by: Keyur Khamar

Keyur Khamar

ORLANDO – With a blazing eight-under-par 64 in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March, Francesco Molinari was riding the biggest wave of his career. His come-from-behind victory was his fourth in a 10-month span, a run that included his first major title, the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie.

A month after blitzing Bay Hill Club’s Championship Course to overcome a five-stroke deficit to Matthew Fitzpatrick, Molinari appeared poised to add an even bigger prize–a green jacket. The Italian standout took a two-stroke lead into the final round of the Masters, and he still led with eight holes to go.

Then he found disaster, as many would-be Masters contenders have done in the past, dumping a tee shot into Rae’s Creek at the par-3 12th to suffer a double bogey. Yet another watery mistake at the 15th ended his bid as Tiger Woods, playing in the same group, took advantage of the errors and went on to win his fifth Masters.

Back to defend his title at Bay Hill, Molinari, 37, is in search of the form he displayed 12 months ago. It has not been easy. Not that it ever is.

“Yeah, I'm a little bit behind where I was planning to be, obviously, at this time,” he said Tuesday at Bay Hill. “The start of the season has not been as good as I hoped for, but it's only the start. There's been a few physical things and technical things, but I'm working through it. I think I've got some good planning for the next few weeks building up to Augusta and some good direction to work towards. And, yeah, just looking forward to being out, play 18 a day and hopefully getting sharper day by day.”

Ranked 26th in the world–after leaving here No. 7 last year–Molinari, it’s fair to say, has struggled since he stumbled at Augusta National. He said it himself. The start of the season hasn’t been what he hoped for.

His best finish this season is T-22 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. In his last four starts, he missed three straight cuts before finishing T-53 at the WGC-Mexico Championship, which doesn’t have a cut. He currently ranks 168th in the FedEx Cup standings.

It hasn't been all bad since the Masters, though. He made the cut in the following three majors with a tie for 16th in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and a T-11 finish in his title defense in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

Perhaps a return to Bay Hill, where he’s finished in the top 10 in four of seven appearances, will ignite his game. Molinari enjoys the course, even though he considers it more of a bomber’s paradise. Ball-striking, he said, has largely been his problem the past few months, and the fact that he is 206th in driving accuracy and 210th in greens in regulation validate the assessment.

“I try to be honest with myself,” he said. “I think in golf it's never too easy because there's a part of you that always makes you think you're close even when you're not. I wouldn't say I'm particularly close right now. I would be, my expectations going into the next few weeks are really to build up some momentum and get better day by day and not really thinking too far ahead of myself. There's work that I need to do to be physically better and fitter than I am right now and technically to be sharper. So that's the plan for the next few weeks.

“But not always results in golf are directly linked to where you are exactly in a certain moment,” Molinari added. “So, results might come earlier than I think, but the plan is still no matter what the results are going to be, to work hard the next month and get better.”