Molinari triumphs in two-horse battle

Francesco Molinari has held off Lee Westwood to win the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club.

Francesco Molinari underlined the fact that he has what it takes to win the big ones when he held off a determined Lee Westwood on Sunday to triumph in the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.

The Italian Ryder Cup star joined his brother Edoardo and teenaged compatriot Matteo Manassero to make it three Italian winners on the European Tour this year when he shot a rock-solid 5-under 67 for a 19-under 269 tally that was to earn him a wire-to-wire victory that left new World No 1 Westwood, trailing by a shot.

Westwood, who clearly strengthened his place on top of the World Rankings list in this elite WGC event that pitted most of the world’s greatest golfers against each other, also shot a closing 67 to in turn finish a runaway nine shots clear of the field in what ended in a battle of attrition by two driven opponents determined not to give an inch.

Scotland’s Richie Ramsay (71) and Luke Donald (73) tied for third at 9-under, Rory McIlroy was alone in 5th place on 8-under after a 67 with former World No 1 Tiger Woods, the only American to finish in the top 20, tied for 6th at 7-under in a six-strong group that included South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, Englishman Paul Casey and Australian Richard Green..

Molinari was a deserved winner, having led after every round, but Westwood came desperately close to forcing a play-off when his mammoth putt for an eagle on the last wasn’t too far off line.

“It wasn’t easy. I’m just really proud of the way I played,” an upbeat Molinari admitted after a second European Tour victory captured on the eve of his 28th birthday on Monday.

Westwood also looked upbeat when he shook hands with Molinari afterwards, possibly because he knew he had widened the gap between himself and the now second ranked Tiger Woods in the world standings.

Woods, looked ominously close to firing on all cylinders on his way to carded an impressive four-under-par 68 on Sunday, but in the end his putting was still not good enough to get him out front again

The Melbourne-bound Woods stormed home with birdies on the closing stretch, and if he can take that form to Victoria Golf Club this week he will have an excellent chance of retaining his Australian Masters title.

“I hit the ball a lot better today,” he said, despite his clear-cut disappointment with the three-putt par at the last that cost him a chance of sharing 5th place with McIlroy.

“I messed up 18 but overall it was a very good day,” he continued.

“I felt pretty good warming up, hit a lot of good shots but just didn’t get anything going early.”

“I hit one bad tee shot on (No.8) that cost me a bogey, but otherwise I felt I was hitting the ball well and it was just a matter of being patient.”

Woods, who is expected to arrive in Melbourne on Tuesday morning after an exhibition match in Thailand, played the final round with Australian Richard Green, who was impressed with what he saw:

“Watching him up close, and listening to the way the ball comes off the club face, is inspiring,” Green said.

“He’s definitely just waiting to click, get the right opportunities at the right time, a bit of momentum and off he’ll go.

“I didn’t notice anything different to how he used to hit the ball five or six years ago. It’s just a matter of getting in the groove again.”