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Rough finish pushes Molinari back down the pack

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Climbing down a cliff and riding in a golf cart are among the things players mostly need to avoid when trying to contend for a U.S. Open. Francesco Molinari did both in the span of about five minutes Friday, and a promising ride up the leaderboard turned into something much different.

Molinari played his last two holes in 3-over par to drop from second place to completely off the leaderboard, shooting 1-over 72 and finishing at 2-under 140 heading into the weekend at Pebble Beach. "I liked it more before the last two holes," Molinari said, when asked about his position. "But, yeah, it's fine. I did what I could. Could have easily been a few over par, and I just fought with what I had."

Indeed, it was a struggle at the beginning for the Italian, who burst onto the scene with his British Open win last year and has been contending at the majors ever since. Starting on No. 10, Molinari found only one fairway over the first eight holes, then nearly gave back his first birdie of the day, on 18, when he hit an iron off the tee and into the rough on No. 1.

But he saved par there, then made birdies on Nos. 4 and 7, and briefly stood at 5 under, in a tie for second and looking at a late tee time for Saturday. That's when things got weird — in a bad way. First, Molinari hit a thin 6-iron from the middle of the fairway on No. 8, the hole that traverses a wide cavern across the Pacific Ocean before breaking sharply downward toward the green. He and a few marshals crawled down into the thick vegetation near the top of the cliff and found the ball. But it was unplayable.

Into a golf cart Molinari went, to take a drop back on the other side of the canyon. He made double bogey, and looked poised to finish with a par, but missed a 4-foot slider on No. 9. Since his win last year at the British, Molinari has finished in the top 10 at the 2018 PGA and at the Masters. His chance to win the green jacket came to an end with a pair of double bogeys on the back nine on Sunday.

"Sometimes it's your day, sometimes it isn't," he said after that one. And sometimes, as he found out Friday, it can be both.

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