"One of my best putting rounds ever," said Molinari, who also coolly sank an 11-footer to save par at the second.
The first of Molinari's three wins last season came at the BMW PGA Championship in Wentworth, which was the third time in 2018 that McIlroy was in the last group. He started the fourth round, which was relieved by Molinari, who shot four in scoring for a two-stroke victory over McIlroy. By the end of the summer, Molinari had added the titles Quicken Loans and British Open – and McIlroy played in three more combinations in the finals: during the World Golf Championships event in Ohio, the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship
"When I won last year, I played with Rory," Molinari said, "it was not easy at all, so from there I started building my confidence and simply saying that I could do it."
Molinari, 36, was grouped for the first two rounds with Brice Garnett and Ted Potter Jr., two golfers with zero major titles and three PGA Tour winning between them.
Despite his world rankings no. 10 and his star change with Tommy Fleetwood for the European team during the Ryder Cup last year, Molinari seemed easy to overlook on the standings. Keith Mitchell, who last week consolidated his first tour title with a tie for sixth place on Bay Hill, signed his scorecard for a final 66 – and an eight-under total – while the leaders were on the first nine.
Asked what he thought the winning score would be, Mitchell gambled 10 or 11 times and said: "Unbelievable, I think Rory McIlroy has proven himself time and again", so if he went down , he added: "I would not even be surprised."
McIlroy is determined not to let him determine the results. "Yes, my Sundays were not what I wanted," he said, "but I put myself in that position, and good golfing is good golfing."