Fitzpatrick poised for first PGA title

McIlroy makes case for defence | Sport

A year after Rory McIlroy surged to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Francesco Molinari fired a round of eight birdies-including a dramatic 44-footer on the 18th hole-to win his third PGA Tour event in eight months.

"I thought there was an outside chance and just started making putts", 36-year-old Molinari told NBC television about his mindset after he had teed off five strokes from the lead.

McIlroy hasn't finished outside the top six in 2019, a stretch of tournaments that most PGA Tour pros would consider the best of their careers. "It will be a fun day".

Fitzpatrick recently rented a place in Jupiter, Fla., and has become quite friendly with McIlroy, spending a fair bit of time practising alongside the four-time major champion that he will be trying to hold off on Sunday. He has got a ton of fans over here. "I'm looking forward to it".

Australia's Aaron Baddeley, England's Matt Wallace and American Kevin Kisner shared third on 209 but McIlroy, who began the day seven adrift, said plenty of rivals are within reach of the title.

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's a great opportunity tomorrow to do something I've never done before", he said. It was reminiscent of McIlroy's form 12 months ago, when eight birdies from his last 13 holes earned him victory. Did the same today.

And by the look of Bay Hill in the warm, late afternoon - greens that looked yellow, fairways feeling tighter in such firm conditions - it won't be any easier.

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The former world number one, strong off the tee, birdied four of his first six holes and three of his final four as he continued solid play for the season.

Defending champion McIlroy also played beautifully but an even-par final round of 72 left him in a share of sixth. "It's great play, but I think Rory exemplifies just how hard it is to win on tour".

"I've got a mixed bag now and I'm fiddling around but the luxury is there's nothing that I feel could be better". But the greens are so pure, if you start putts on line they have a good chance to go in.

He hit pitching wedge that settled a foot away for a tap-in on the 15th, hit a pitch over the bunker from right of the green on the par-5 16th for a 4-foot birdie, and then finished with another pitching wedge to 10 feet for one last birdie. It's different over here, the courses are different, but I've put myself in a good position.

McIlroy understands that if you have to have problems, finishing in the top six every week is a pretty good one to have.

McIlroy has not won since taking last year's crown at Bay Hill, his 14th career PGA victory.

"Coming from Italy, we weren't exposed to that much golf", Molinari said. "The course is going to get tougher as it goes along".

Overnight leaders Tommy Fleetwood and Keegan Bradley both battled from the outset to fall well down the standings, Bradley eventually signing for a 75 to be three off the lead and T6 while Fleetwood's 76 sees him T11 and four back.

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