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Francesco Molinari unable to defend Arnold Palmer Invitational title

Defending champion pulls out shortly before first round at Bay Hill, where he was scheduled to play with Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose.

Francesco Molinari
Image: Francesco Molinari has pulled out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Francesco Molinari has been forced to withdraw from this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational due to a back injury.

Molinari, who fired a final-round 64 to claim a two-shot victory at Bay Hill last year, made the decision to pull out shortly before the first round, when he was scheduled to tee off at 7:54am local time alongside Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose.

Image: Molinari is unable to defend his Bay Hill title due to a back injury

The defending champion admitted in his pre-tournament press conference that he had been "working through a few physical and technical" issues that have contributed to his alarming slump in form over the last year.

Molinari has not recorded a top-10 finish since his unfortunate late collapse at The Masters last April, when he led with seven holes to play before finding water at the 12th and 15th holes on Sunday to open the door for Tiger Woods.

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The Italian missed the cut by a distance in his first three starts of 2020 and finished outside the top 50 at the WGC-Mexico Championship, and his world ranking has now slipped to 26th having been comfortable inside the top 10 for the majority of last year.

"I'm a little bit behind where I was planning to be at this time," Molinari said on Tuesday. "The start of the season has not been as good as I hoped for, but it's only the start.

Francesco Molinari
Image: Molinari remains without a top-10 finish since The Masters last year

"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.

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"My expectations going into the next few weeks are really to build up some momentum and get better day by day and not really thinking too far ahead of myself. There's work that I need to do to be physically better and fitter than I am right now and technically to be sharper."

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McIlroy and Rose will now be accompanied by South Korea's Kyoung-Hoon Lee for the first two rounds, with Molinari now a doubt for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass next week.

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