Defending champion Francesco Molinari has withdrawn from the defence of his Arnold Palmer Invitational title with a back injury.
Molinari carded a brilliant closing 64 at Bay Hill last year to claim a two-shot victory, but the winner of the 2018 Open Championship has not recorded a single top-10 finish since a tie for fifth in the Masters last April.
The 37-year-old Italian, who held a two-shot lead at Augusta National before finding water twice in the last seven holes, has slipped from a career-high of fifth to 26th in the world rankings.
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In his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday, Molinari admitted he was “a little behind” where he wanted to be at this stage of the season after three missed cuts and a tie for 53rd in the 72-man WGC-Mexico Championship, which does not have a halfway cut.
“The start of the season has not been as good as I hoped for, but it’s only the start,” said Molinari, who was replaced in the field at Bay Hill by South Korea’s Lee Kyoung-hoon.
“There’s been a few physical things and technical things but I’m working through it. I think I’ve got some good planning for the next few weeks building up to Augusta and some good direction to work towards.”
Molinari won all five of his matches in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory over the United States in Paris in 2018, but is currently 53rd in the qualifying standings for September’s contest at Whistling Straits.