Fitzpatrick takes one-shot lead at Bay Hill

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Matthew Fitzpatrick

Francesco Molinari clinched an unlikely two-stroke victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he stormed home with a closing eight-under-par 64 in Florida on Sunday on a day where defending champion Rory McIlroy faded in finishing joint sixth. He became the first European to win all five matches at the Ryder Cup.

Four-time major victor McIlroy says he regrets that scheduling conflict but is determined to honour "The King" by defending his title in Sunday's final round. "It will be a fun day". "I would have needed to go out there to better him, which would have been one of the best scores of the day". He has got a ton of fans over here. It's different over here, the courses are different, but I've put myself in a good position. "I'm looking forward to it".

"It was an unbelievable round from Francesco to shoot what he did, " McIlroy said. "I'd still say the 2- and 3-unders still have a chance to win the tournament". Sung Kang also had a big putt on the 18th hole, this one from 12 feet for par that sewed up the third and final spot offered for the British Open at Royal Portrush this summer.

"Just played really smart", said Fitzpatrick. "I'm pretty sure I'm the first guy to make it with the flag in, though, so that's the real difference". Did the same today. "Greens are firm, hitting a lot of long irons, and it's a true test". "You hit it up to 25, 30 feet, you take your two-putts, you move on and know you're not going to lose any ground on the field".

Fitzpatrick made two late birdies to pass McIlroy with a 54-hole score of 9-under 207. "I just didn't play the par-5s well enough".

He added: "I'm leading the tournament now but yesterday, through the first 10 holes, I could have easily been out of the tournament as I was struggling. Whenever you start them on line they have a good chance". Sure, it was always going to be hard to deflect the fire Molinari was spewing, but at what point in a long series of "what are you going to do about that other guy having a career day?" do you start asking, "Why isn't Rory ever that other guy?"

After a three-putt par at the par-5 fifth, McIlroy sank a 26-foot birdie putt at the fifth and then blasted from a greenside bunker inches from the cup on the way to a birdie at the par-5 sixth. If you hit it on the fairway at least you can get some spin on your ball and get it somewhat close to these holes. "There's no way he's knocked it to 6 feet on every hole".

"We have had some good battles on the course, Wentworth was one of them", McIlroy said.

McIlroy started the back nine with five straight pars but put in a storming finish with three birdies over the final four holes, his 66 taking him into a two-shot clubhouse lead over Chris Kirk (66) and Luke List (68).

"So it's unusual that the best result of the year and the week that I feel like I've sort of built some momentum and felt really comfortable on the golf course, kind of ends with a little bit of disappointment". "The course is going to get tougher as it goes along".

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