Arnold Palmer Invitational: Rory McIlroy’s Ups and Downs Continue

“One of my best putting rounds ever,” said Molinari, who also coolly sank an 11-footer to save par at the second.

The first of Molinari’s three victories last season came at the BMW P.G.A. Championship at Wentworth, which was the third time in 2018 that McIlroy was in the final group. He began the fourth round tied with Molinari, who shot four under for a two-stroke victory over McIlroy. By the end of the summer, Molinari had added the Quicken Loans and British Open titles — and McIlroy had played his way into three more final-round pairings: at the World Golf Championships event in Ohio, the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship.

“When I won last year, playing with Rory,” Molinari said, “it wasn’t easy at all. So from there, I started building my confidence and just saying I could get it done.”

Molinari, 36, was grouped for the first two rounds with Brice Garnett and Ted Potter Jr., two golfers with zero major titles and three PGA Tour wins between them.

Despite his No. 10 world ranking and his star turn with Tommy Fleetwood for the European team at last year’s Ryder Cup, Molinari seemed easy to overlook on the leader board. Keith Mitchell, who consolidated his first tour title last week with a tie for sixth at Bay Hill, signed his scorecard for a closing 66 — and an eight-under total — while the leaders were on the front nine.

Asked what he thought the winning score would be, Mitchell guessed 10 or 11 under and said, unbidden, “I think Rory McIlroy’s obviously proven himself time in and time out” so that if he went lower, he added, “I wouldn’t even be surprised.”

McIlroy is determined not to let the results define him. “Yeah, my Sundays haven’t been what I would have liked,” he said, “but I’m putting myself in that position. Good golf is good golf.”

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