Yet while Molinari had a day to remember on the greens, behind him the final pairing of Fitzpatrick and McIlroy struggled to consolodate on chances; McIlroy had irons in to all four of the par-fives but made just one birdie.
That's high praise coming from someone who has been drinking Barolo and Brunello out of the Claret Jug since July.
Molinari canned a 44ft birdie putt on the last hole at Bay Hill to card a closing 64 and post 12 under, which ultimately gave him a two-shot victory over Fitzpatrick. But the day belonged to the 36-year-old Italian. Sung Kang also had a big putt on the 18th hole, this one from 12 feet for par that sewed up the third and final spot offered for the British Open at Royal Portrush this summer.
McIlroy, in yet another in a series of disappointing final rounds in which he's come up short while in contention, shot even par Sunday and finished at 8-under, along with Mitchell, last week's Honda Classic victor, Wallace and Kang. But no one got closer than two shots by day's end while Molinari waited patiently in the clubhouse for his cardigan fitting.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational is one of the PGA Tour's most prestigious tournaments - offering a US$9.1 million (AU$12.9m) purse and a three-year exemption on Tour for the victor.
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The Italian, who teed off an hour and 40 minutes before the final group, left an eagle putt on the edge of the 16th hole but rattled in an eighth birdie at the last to set a formidable target, putting Fitzpatrick two shots behind in second place with six holes to play.
In 2018, the Northern Irishman fired a final-round 8-under-par 64 and rallied to a three-stroke victory over Bryson DeChambeau. Woods told PGA Tour officials that unless he suffered a reaction he would play in the flagship event.
At the 16th he reached the green in two, leading the way for a two-putt birdie at the par-5 hole. For third-round leader Matt Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace and Tommy Fleetwood, there wasn't a lot to reproach themselves about. McIlroy finished at eight under and tied for sixth, amazingly his worst finish of 2019.
Molinari's birdie trail continued at the 12th and 13th to move alongside Fitzpatrick at the top of the leaderboard.
For Molinari, it meant a two-shot victory at Bay Hill, and his first since claiming the Open Championship in July past year. He becomes the fifth South African victor of this event after Darren Fichardt, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Branden Grace. Molinari said it was his "best putting round ever". "I knew it was not going to be easy. I'm delighted for solo second, but I just felt like the way I played and the way I was hitting it, I could have been a little more aggressive".
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"I'm getting myself into contention every week, continue to do that, going into next week", he said.
Harding birdied the par five first for the fourth time this week and added further birdies on the third and fourth to share the lead.
No one got closer than two shots the whole time he was in the locker room watching the back nine, which was harder than he made his golf look. After the putt kissed the flagstick and found the cup, the API's eventual victor wagged his index finger to the sky and then performed a fist pump.
Only three of his eight birdie putts were inside 10 feet.
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