POTOMAC, Md. (AP) — Francesco Molinari was torn between Paris and Washington until the last minute.
There was no doubting the decision Sunday afternoon, not with his name on a silver trophy in the shape of the U.S. Capitol, the lowest 72-hole score of his career and a stretch of golf that was close to flawless.
“The thought was just to keep pushing, keep making birdies and don’t give anyone a chance,” Molinari said.
Molinari faced a 15-foot par putt on the ninth hole that he poured into the center of the cup to keep a three-shot lead. He holed a 50-foot eagle putt on the 10th. He hit a 6-iron to 2 feet for birdie on No. 11, one of the hardest par 4s on the PGA Tour which had yielded only one other birdie all day. Three birdies later, he was nine shots clear and on his way to victory in the Quicken Loans National.
The French Open offered valuable Ryder Cup points on a course where the matches will be played this fall. The Quicken Loans National was on its last leg with one of the weakest fields it has ever had, in the most oppressive heat that the Italian has ever played.
Molinari picked the PGA Tour because he was No. 123 in the FedEx Cup and wanted to improve his position, especially after missing the Tour Championship by what amounted to one shot last year.
“Seems like it was the right choice in the end,” he said.
He finished at 21-under 259, breaking the tournament record by seven shots. He won by eight shots over Ryan Armour, matching the largest margin of victory this year on the PGA Tour.
“It was a lot easier than I thought,” Molinari said with a wide grin. “I played great. The start of the back nine was incredible.”
Tiger Woods closed with a 66, his lowest final round in more than five years, and he was never close. Woods tied for fourth, his best result since a runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship three months ago, though he was 10 shots behind.
“I was only four back at the time when I made the turn, and so I thought that maybe if I got on the back nine, I shot 30 — maybe 29 — that would be enough,” Woods said. “Evidently, I would have to shoot 24 on the back nine. What Francesco is doing back there is just awesome.”
Armour closed with a 68 to finish second, earning one of four spots to the British Open.
“I’ve never played a major,” the 42-year-old Armour said. “I’m fired up to go over to Carnoustie and see how my game translates over there.”
The other three spots went to Sung Kang, who finished third after a 64; Abraham Ancer, who tied for fourth after a 72; and Bronson Burgoon, who had a day he won’t forget. Burgoon played with Woods for the first time and experience larger crowds and louder noise than he had ever experienced. And with a birdie on the final hole for a 67, he tied for sixth to earn his first trip to the British Open.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Burgoon said about the gallery.
Molinari previously won the HSBC Champions in 2010, a World Golf Championships event in Shanghai. But that was before the PGA Tour recognized it as an official victory unless a PGA Tour member had won the tournament.
That victory was a lot like this one — a master performance by a player who relies on his tee-to-green game and thrives when the putter is hot. And the putter was as scorching as weather that approached 100 degrees.
Molinari beat Lee Westwood by one shot, and no one else was closer than 10 shots in Shanghai. This time, he had the course to himself with a back nine that was close to perfection, much like his week. Molinari missed only 10 greens in regulation over 72 holes.
Not many people saw it. Thousands were following Woods all week, even in the oppressive heat over the weekend.
Woods came to live with a pair of birdies late on the front nine, and he was in range to get even closer when he hit a lob wedge to 6 feet on No. 10. He missed the putt. He missed the 13th fairway and took bogey for the second straight day. And then he missed a 3-foot birdie putt on No. 14.
“Those are things that I can’t afford to do and expect to win a golf tournament,” Woods said.
Woods served as the tournament host when the PGA Tour stayed in Washington in 2007 down the road at Congressional, a tournament with a mission of honoring military around the Fourth of July. It lost AT&T as a title sponsor, Quicken Loans stepped in for 2014, and then the Detroit-based company chose not to renew the contract, instead putting its sponsorship behind a new tournament in Detroit that starts next year.