The 18th green at Bay Hill has been the setting for plenty of dramatic putts. But this one, a 44-foot bomb from Francesco Molinari, was entirely different. That’s because Molinari left the pin in for his winning putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, becoming the first Tour player to win on a pin-in putt under golf’s new rules. A brave new world.
A year ago, you’ll recall Rory McIlroy lapped the field over Bay Hill’s finishing stretch, running off a string of five birdies in the closing six holes. He capped it off with this putt at No. 18, accompanied by a massive fist-pump. And why not? For one week, McIlroy was king again.
You’ll recall one Tiger Woods making another left-to-righter coming down the slope at 18, a decade before McIlroy’s redux. The perfect speed, the ball tumbling in the edge, the hat throw – the putt became an instantly iconic moment for a man with a career’s worth of iconic moments.
Then came Sunday. Molinari, who was just hoping to post a good clubhouse number, stared down the lengthy birdie try and then did this (the commentary is better in Italian, trust us).
The ironic thing about Molinari breaking the winning pin-in putt barrier is that he’s not even a particular proponent of the new rule. In fact, he said after the round that he thinks it’s the first putt he himself had made with the pin in. He relished the way it went down.
“It’s a pretty iconic putt,” Molinari said after the round. “I’m pretty sure I’m the first guy to make it with the flag in though, so that’s the real difference…I’ve seen so many putts on TV like that, and to do it yourself it’s really amazing.”
The plot thickens given Molinari’s brother, Edoardo, has made the case that leaving the pin in provides a statistical disadvantage. Francesco usually follows that advice. But here, using the pin to judge speed outweighed any concerns about the ball hitting the pin itself.
“No, he actually thinks that you need to leave it out, so he’s probably going to tell me off when I speak to him later,” Francesco said of his brother. “But, no, I usually always take it out, but when you have a 43, 45 foot putt, I don’t think it has a massive influence one way or the other, especially if you hit it at a decent pace it’s going to go in no matter what. So I thought for a second to take it out, but then I thought maybe it was going to help me to judge the lagging better, so it worked out all right.”
No doubt Edoardo approved of the result — even though it meant usurping brotherly bragging rights at the Orlando event. Until Sunday, Edoardo had the best Bay Hill result of the family, dating back to a T2 he had in 2010, when Ernie Els won by two at 11 under. Sunday, Francesco did him one better.