Francesco Molinari lands an ace and gets his season off to a flyer at Bay Hill

It should serve as a warning to the leading figures in golf that Francesco Molinari believes he is in better form than a year ago, when he was poised to deliver three tournament wins. One of those, of course, was the Open Championship.

Molinari’s opening to 2019 has hardly been orthodox; he has changed his equipment supplier and was bed-bound for a fortnight because of flu. Signs, merely the latest signs, that the 36-year-old Italian can shrug off adversity arrived on Thursday with an opening 69 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I am more confident,” Molinari said when asked about comparisons with 2018. “Obviously winning tournaments like I did last year that I hadn’t done in the past has been a good boost of confidence, and I feel the game is still improving. There’s still margins of improvement and if anything I feel better than last year, so hopefully there’s another good season ahead.”

Molinari’s opening-round highlight was a hole in one at the 203-yard 7th, delivered with a four iron. This marks the first week all 14 clubs in his bag have been of the Callaway brand, courtesy of the recent switch.

“All of us probably say the same, but honestly for me it’s been very easy,” Molinari added. “The new ball has been really good, the irons fantastic, the woods have taken a little longer, but now I feel like I’ve got some good clubs in the bag. I drove the ball beautifully today, so it has all been pretty smooth.”

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Rafael Cabrera-Bello had set the early pace at Bay Hill with a seven-under 65. Graeme McDowell, who has slipped outside of the world’s top 250 in the year when the Open makes a return to his native Northern Ireland, produced an encouraging 68.

The Masters preparations of Jason Day have been affected by his latest back injury. The Australian lasted just six holes on Thursday before withdrawing. “I aggravated it last Sunday and then got an MRI Monday which came back that I had an annular tear in my disc,” the Australian said.

“I saw a physio here in Orlando and tried to do as much work as I possibly could to get ready for this week. I just wanted to see if I could get out here and if it may have loosened up. But unfortunately it didn’t, so I had to pull out.”


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