Beating McIlroy at Wentworth proved key to Molinari’s ‘W’

Francesco Molinari admiring his trophy / Image from Getty Images
Francesco Molinari admiring his trophy / Image from Getty Images

Francesco Molinari has revealed the continuing secret to his latest victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational – beating Rory McIlroy head-to-head at Wentworth last May.

Molinari brilliantly duplicated McIlroy’s final round 64 of a year ago to win by two shots at Bay Hill.

Most notably, however, since the Italian and McIlroy went out in the final round of the BMW PGA Championship, Molinari has captured a first PGA Tour victory with a final day 62 at the Quicken Loans National, become the first Italian to win a Major with his Open Championship triumph at Carnoustie,  broke a European scoring record at the Ryder Cup, been crowned European No. 1, won a host of prestigious awards including the Association of Golf Writer’s coveted ‘Golfer of the Year’ and has now captured a third PGA Tour title.

The 36-year old Turin golfer has also jumped from 33rd in the world to now be ranked No. 7 and just one place behind McIlroy.

Ten months ago, Molinari and McIlroy were tied for the BMW PGA lead with a round to play, with Molinari storming two clear early on while McIlroy, despite birdieing his closing two holes for a 70, was unable to compete with Molinari’s 68.

Two months later, Molinari again relegated McIlroy into joint second place in becoming the first Italian to win a Major.

Then on a glorious Orlando spring afternoon, with tournament host Arnold Palmer no doubt ‘looking on’, Molinari produced a Palmer-like final day charge in matching McIlroy’s 2018 winning 64 to put himself into favoritism to win next month’s Masters.

And while Molinari singled out his wife and new club sponsors, Callaway for special praise, he also spoke of the confidence he’s gained since being paired last May in leafy Surrey alongside McIlroy.

“Yeah, it’s hard to point a finger at one thing but it’s obvious confidence has to do with a lot of it,” Molinari said.

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

“I’ve also got to the state where I’m not scared about going out on the golf course playing against anyone, but it’s still really hard for me to picture myself where I am at the moment.”

McIlroy is probably posing the same question to himself having let slip yet another Tour title, and what would have been a first successful defence in his career.

It’s now more than 12 months since he won the Arnold Palmer while it is almost 30 months since he stormed his way to victory in winning the 2016 Tour Championship.

In his five starts this year, McIlroy has now finished fourth, tied- fifth, tied-fourth, second and tied-sixth. He has 12 top-10s in his last 23 worldwide starts.

However, McIlroy is now 0-for-9 since the start of the 2018 season when he’s started a final round in the last group.

“I’m playing well,” he maintained. “I’m getting myself into contention every week.

“That’s the great thing about golf, you don’t have to wait too long to get back on the horse. Though sooner or later you must get tired of constantly being bucked off the horse!”

McIlroy’s next chance at victory starts on Thursday at the Players Championship at Sawgrass.