Lee Westwood admits Francesco Molinari “will be tough to hunt down” during the final round of the World Golf Championships – HSBC Champions as he remained one shot adrift of the Italian in Shanghai.
Both players shot five under par rounds of 67 to see the Italian move to 14 under for the week at Sheshan International and pull the leading duo clear of the chasing pack.
Having been separated by the finest of margins all week, it was little surprise when The Ryder Cup teammates both birdied their opening hole.
Westwood was briefly level after his 27 year old playing partner dropped a shot at the fourth, but Molinari responded with a birdie at the fifth to restore his advantage before both players gained a stroke at the par five eighth.
While 37 year old Westwood was producing a bogey free round, Molinari’s card was more varied as he birdied the tenth only to then bogey the 12th before holing his seven iron approach at the 13th for eagle – a shot he later described as “probably the best of the day”.
Westwood responded with birdies at the 13th and 15th to keep the deficit to one, and at the 16th the reigning Race to Dubai champion should have pulled level.
He attempted to drive the green at the short par four, and despite missing the putting surface was able to chip his second to three feet.
Molinari had a ten foot putt just for par at that stage and there was even the prospect of a two-shot swing giving Westwood the lead, but while the Turin golfer bravely holed out the World Number One missed.
Both players then birdied the par five last, Molinari’s improved form with the putter continuing with an eight foot downhill effort while Westwood chipped his third shot to within 12 inches.
Molinari said: “It was a bit of a rollercoaster for me because I hit some really good shots and some not so good shots. I think I showed today that my short game is improving and I’m happy the way I chipped and I putted.
“Sixteen was a really tough moment and it was really good to hole that par putt. Finishing like that is really good because it keeps me in the lead going into tomorrow.”
Westwood was delighted to have put together three excellent rounds on his return from a calf injury, having come into the week with “no expectations”, despite being the new Word Number One.
“That’s probably the best I’ve played all week, played really solidly today,” he said. "I missed a few chances on the greens but made a couple of nice putts as well.
“I think 67 is a good score, I didn’t make a bogey. It shows a good quality of golf when you only make two bogeys over 54 holes.”
Westwood’s compatriot Luke Donald played himself into the final group for the closing round with a bogey-free 68 which left him ten under for the week – four shots off the pace.
And with Ross Fisher, Ernie Els and Richie Ramsay tied for fourth two shots further back, the top six comprised entirely of European Tour Members.
Meanwhile Ireland’s Padraig Harrington carded the tournament’s first albatross on the par five 14th.
“I've never had an albatross before so obviously that was the shot of the day for me,” said the three-time Major winner.