Golf, as Arnold Palmer observed, “is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening and it is without doubt the greatest game mankind ever invented.”

Of course, when you’ve endured yet another anguish-laden round of crippling complications, flabbergasting frustrations and maddening mishaps it can be the worst game on the ruddy planet. But you always come back for more.

Francesco Molinari is well aware of golf’s fickle fortunes. A year ago he was riding the crest of a wave and his win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, which was completed with a sparkling 64 on the final day, underlined his majesty and momentum.

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It was a rousing Italian Job but, as he prepares to defend his crown this week, his form continues to creak and teeter like the bus at the end of that celluloid caper.

Molinari’s rampaging run between May of 2018 and March of 2019 was something to behold.

It started with a victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and accelerated with a maiden major win at The Open before he won five out of five at the Ryder Cup and topped the European Tour order of merit for the first time.

His Bay Hill win at the start of 2019 set him up nicely for a Masters assault and it was all going swimmingly too until a trip into Rae’s Creek left him up the proverbial creek. He’s still splashing around looking for a metaphorical paddle.

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That calamitous double-bogey on Augusta’s pesky 12th hole during a ding-dong final round opened the door for the prowling Tiger Woods and Molinari would eventually slither from the lead into a fifth-place finish.

He’s never fully recovered and in the 18 events he’s played since that Masters muddle, the 37-year-old has not recorded a top 10.

“Although it is maybe too easy to identify Augusta as a turning point, my confidence did take a hit that week,” Molinari said.

“I got as high in confidence as you can possibly get [during his winning run] and was leading with just a few holes to go in the Masters.

“And then when stuff like that happens, it affects your confidence. Until Augusta, it was like a snowball effect getting bigger. Then it started to go the other way. And it has been hard to stop.”

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A combination of technical issues and physical niggles have not helped Molinari’s cause and his results in 2020 – three missed cuts and a share of 53rd – have hardly provided much to cling to.

“I’m a bit behind where I was planning to be but it’s only the start of the season though,” said Molinari, who has dropped from seventh in the world to 27th.

“I try to be honest with myself. There is a part of you that makes you think you are close [to finding form] even when you are not. I’m not close right now.

“I need to be fitter than I am right now and, technically, I need to be sharper. Mentally, I’m ready to go but you need to be physically 100 per cent to be able to compete.”

As he returns to the scene of one of his finest triumphs in Florida this week, perhaps the memory of that closing 64 a year ago can provide a catalyst for an upturn in Molinari’s fortunes. He needs something to kick-start a resurgence

“I played an incredible round, one of the best of my career,” he said with a sense of melancholic yearning.