Francesco Molinari is a last-minute withdrawal ahead of his title defense at Bay Hill

March 05, 2020

Keyur Khamar

Francesco Molinari’s title defense at the Arnold Palmer Invitational ended before it began on Thursday.

The 37-year-old Italian was a late scratch from his first-round tee time due to a bad back. He was replaced in the field at Bay Hill by K.H. Lee.

The withdrawal marked the latest in a series of disappointing starts by the 2018 British Open champ, although, perhaps the injury provides a reason for his recent poor play. Molinari had failed to make the weekend in his prior three events with a 36-hole cut, and he hasn’t posted a top 10 since losing the lead on the back nine of the final round at last year’s Masters.

Last year, Molinari made a 44-foot closing birdie at Bay Hill to cap a two-shot win over Matthew Fitzpatrick. It was his fourth win on either the PGA Tour or European Tour within a 10-month span and the following month, he looked poised to win a second major until finding the water on Augusta National’s 12th and 15th holes on Sunday in an event eventually won by Tiger Woods.

Molinari has fallen to No. 26 in the Official World Golf Ranking after being as high as No. 6 in July.