With the rest of the field too far back to pose a challenge, the final round was a thrilling duel between Francesco Molinari and Lee Westwood. Molinari led the WGC-HSBC Champions wire-to-wire, opening with a fantastic 65 on Thursday and holding his nerve against the newly-crowned world’s No. 1 to post a 67 on Sunday for a one-stroke victory at Shenshan International in Shanghai.
With daylight savings happening in most parts of the world, I woke up in the middle of the night and checked the leaderboard. When I saw things were close between Molinari and Westwood, I crawled out of bed to catch the final nine.
The two appeared to be matching great shots and birdies, but things turned to Molinari’s advantage on the 16th hole.
Westwood’s drive on the 288-year par-4 dribbled to the left of the green, where a pot bunker stood between him and the pin. When the announcer saw the result, he called it, “Now he’s dead. He’s dead.” Molinari drove his tee shot into the primary rough, but managed to knock a wedge to about five-feet. But Westwood wasn’t so lucky. With a tight lie, he fluffed his chip to the rough around the bunker and managed to save par.
Molinari, who isn’t known for his putting prowess, drained his birdie on 16 to take a two-stroke advantage over Westwood with two to play.
It looked like Molinari had locked up the win after Westwood’s tee shot on the par-3 17 found the bunker and his sand shot powered 15-feet past the hole. However, Westwood drained the putt for par to stay within two.
Westwood gave himself a chance on the par-5 18, knocking it on the green in two. But when he missed his eagle try, Molinari just needed to tap in his one-and-half footer for par to clinch the victory.
Sound exciting? Well, it sure was. It was fun to watch the Chinese fans run down the fairway and circle the green on 18. And when it was all over, Molinari walked off the course as his older brother Edoardo gave him an enthusiastic hug and fireworks lit up the sky.
Though Westwood couldn’t catch Molinari’s splendid 19-under performance, his efforts were equal to that coming from the world’s No. 1 ranked player. He will retain his ranking for another week at least.
The HSBC Champions was Francesco’s second career victory and first WGC. He also wins a trip to Kapalua for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
“It wasn’t easy,” Molinari said. “I’m just really proud of the way I played and the way I handled myself. Lee is No. 1 in the world, and he was playing some fantastic golf. It was a great finish at the end.”
(AP Photos by Andy Wong)