The Arnold Palmer Invitational once again delivered 72nd-hole dramatics, only this time they came more than two hours early Sunday at Bay Hill.
In the end, Francesco Molinari did not mind the long wait.
Molinari drained a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to cap a flawless final-round 8-under 64 and move to 12-under par 276 total. After the putt kissed the flagstick and found the cup, the API's eventual winner wagged his index finger to the sky and then performed a fist pump.
Molinari soon would kick up his feet in the clubhouse and watch nervously as no one out of the course could keep up.
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"I find it a lot more nerve wracking sitting there than being out there playing," Molinari said. "It's easier to keep some sort of control when you're hitting the shots. When it's not up to you, it's not a very nice feeling.
Molinari really had nothing to worry about.
The firm fairways, rock-hard putting surfaces and final-round pressure would be too much for most of the field to handle, particularly those with the best chance to chase down the 36-year-old Italian who raced around the late Palmer's layout like a Ferrari.
England's Matthew Fitzpatrick, who began the day five shots ahead of Molinari, managed to scratch out a 1-under par 71 to finish runner-up two shots back at 10-under par. Playing partner Rory McIlroy, the defending champion and class of the leaderboard entering the final day, finished with an even-par 72 to finish 8-under and tied for sixth place.
"Tough day," McIlroy said.
The four-time major champion and Fitzpatrick had their chances on the back nine to close the gap with Molinari. Rarely did either hit approach shots close enough to offer legitimate scoring chances.
"It's phenomenal," Fitzpatrick said of Molinari's round. "He's obviously holed a lot of putts to do that because you can't get close to these pins. There's no way that he's knocked it to six feet on every hole, the greens were so firm and fast."
Fitzpatrick, playing 10 groups behind Molinari, was correct.
Molinari drained more than 146 feet of putts – 32 more than Fitzpatrick and McIlroy combined.
"I think it's been the best putting round ever in my career," Molinari said. "And it's nice to do it, obviously in those circumstances, at Arnie's place. ... Just tried to stay aggressive until the end."
Earlier in his career, Molinari, admittedly, lacked the killer instinct to deliver such a final-round performance. Known for his superb ball striking and solid play, Molinari made a nice living and hoisted the occasional trophy.
"Looking back a few years ago, I wasn't remotely confident enough and comfortable enough at being out with some of the guys," he said. "But I think it's just been part of the process of, as a junior golfer I wasn't even the best golfer in Italy, so it's been a long journey since and step by step."
These days, Molinari is making history.
Other than reigning U.S. Open and PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka, no golfer on the planet has been hotter than Molinari since last summer.
Molinari won his first PGA Tour event during last July's Quicken Loans Championship, followed three weeks later by his win at the Open Championship, where he held off McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
In October, Molinari became the first European to go 5-0 in the Ryder Cup during his team's rout of the Americans in Paris.
Molinari entered the API the world's 10th-ranked player, but a bit of an afterthought in a star-studded field featuring 12 of the top 20. The PGA Tour's four showcase groupings featured several players with lower rankings and lesser recent form than Molinari, who played the first two rounds with journeymen Brice Garnett and Ted Potter, Jr.
"I don't really – I mean obviously I see it – but I don't pay too much attention to it," Molinari said. "I mean, I go about doing my own stuff and minding my own business, it's not really bothering me, wherever they put me in the tee times, as long as it ends up like this."
Sitting in the red cardigan awarded to the winner and $1.638 million richer, Molinari had nothing to prove. He had gone out on a tough day and performed at a level no one came close to matching.
Molinari bogey-free gem was 13 shots better than playing partner Billy Horschel, nearly eight shots better than the field average and two shots better than anyone on Sunday. A week after winning the Honda Classic, Keith Mitchell carded a 66 to finish 8-under and end the tournament as low American on a leaderboard with eight international players among the top-nine finishers.
Beginning with this week's Players Championship, Molinari enters the heart of the schedule poised to make more Sunday memories. The next time, he hopes the experience is not quite so long and painful.
Before reaching the clubhouse to watch his fellow competitors, Molinari signed his scorecard and even stopped to kiss the Claret Jug on display this week at Bay Hill. Neither act was a big deal for the reigning Open champion.
"I kind of see the Claret Jug every day when I'm at home, so I'm used to seeing it," said Molinari, drawing a laugh in the media center.
When he won last July at Carnoustie, Molinari had to sit 30 minutes before finding out he had won his first major championship. That was long enough, but nothing like Sunday at Bay Hill.
Not that Molinari was not complaining.
"I said this after I won the Open Championship last year, I didn't enjoy it – that half an hour – at all and I didn't enjoy today at all watching the other guys," he said. "But obviously, when you get it done, then at the end it's a great feeling."