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Shanghai: Italy’s Francesco Molinari maintained a slender one-shot lead over world number one Lee Westwood of England after carding a two-under-par 70 for a two-day total of nine-under-par 135 at the WGC-HSBC Champions on Friday.


Westwood added a 70 to his opening 66 to trail closely behind the Italian in second place while three-time Major winner Erie Els of South Africa is tied for third with compatriot Van Zyl Jaco and Scotland’s Richie Ramsay after the trio returned with matching 137s at the Sheshan International Golf Club.


Molinari looked set to pull away from the chasing pack with a larger lead after enjoying a blemish-free round in his first eight holes that was marked with birdies on the second, fourth and seventh holes.


A bogey on the par-four ninth followed by another dropped shot on the 12th hole set him back momentarily before he coloured his card with another birdie on the 14th hole.


“I played really well until the ninth hole.  Then I started missing a few more shots, but you know, I think today was a little bit trickier as well because the wind was a bit stronger,” said Molinari.


“I probably didn't hit the ball as well as I did yesterday. I had to work a little bit harder to save some pars but all in all, I'm happy with the nine‑under total,” added the Italian.


Westwood continued to underline his new-found stature as the world’s best golfer with another assured performance.


The Englishman carded three birdies on holes eight, 14th and 16th but had his otherwise perfect card spoilt by a lone bogey on the par-four 11th.


“I played quite nicely today.  I thought it was a little bit trickier as there was a bit more breeze and the flags were a little more tucked away.  Obviously you could still score well but I thought it was a little bit harder,” said the world number one.


With his troubled calf injury slowly recovering, Westwood is now confident of maintaining his charge for the WGC-HSBC Champions title this week.


“It feels better today than it did yesterday, so I'm delighted about that.  I felt pretty strong out there, and hopefully it's improving all the time,” said Westwood. 


Meanwhile Els who started the day in equal 35th after an opening 72, posted the day’s lowest score of 65 to charge up the leaderboard into contention with the Shanghai showpiece heading into the final weekend rounds.


“Obviously I played really well compared to yesterday, but I thought the greens were a little firmer yesterday.  Today I felt they were a little bit softer.  But I’ve been more aggressive today and I've been hitting the ball well,” said the South African.


World number two Tiger Woods and defending champion Phil Mickelson of the United States are among the nine players bunched in tied-ninth on matching 140s.


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