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MOLINARI STAYS AHEAD AT WGC-HSBC CHAMPIONS
Shanghai: Italy’s Francesco Molinari continued his dominance at the US$7 million WGC-HSBC Champions by battling to a five-under-par 67 to take the third round lead on Saturday.
The Italian is well primed for a wire-to-wire victory after compiling a three-day total of 14-under-par 202, one clear of world number one Lee Westwood of England.
Westwood, who is playing in his first tournament since becoming world number one, kept up the pressure on the Italian by trailing closely in second place with a matching 67 at the Sheshan International Golf Club.
Luke Donald of England is in third place after returning with a 68 while compatriot Ross Fisher, three-time Major winner Ernie Els of South Africa and Scotland’s Richie Ramsay are two back in tied-fourth on 208 total.
Molinari started his round convincingly with an opening birdie on the first hole.
He returned that shot with a bogey on the par-three fourth but responded back with birdies on the fifth and eighth holes.
The Italian then coloured his card with another birdie on the10th hole but saw his two-shot lead over Westwood reduced to one after a bogey on the 12th hole.
However a magical eagle two on the par-four 13th immediately brought his game back to life.
“I think it was a really eventful round, and it was a bit of a roller coaster because I hit some great shots and some not‑so‑great shots,” said Molinari.
“It was obviously good to get some shots back on the 13th. There was a bit of luck to hole it but it was also really a good shot that was aimed straight at the flag,” added Molinari of his eagle which he successfully holed from 160 yards with a seven-iron.
With the world number one Westwood chasing him down the stretch, Molinari knew that he had to captialise on his birdie chances in the last five holes of his homeward run to take an outright lead.
The birdie finally came at the closing par-five 18th where Molinari withstood all pressure to hole that all-important putt.
“It was just a really good wedge shot into the green, and I knew that it had to be the putt that would put me in the lead tomorrow. So I just tried to make the best stroke as possible and luckily it went in,” said Molinari.
Meanwhile Westwood continued to step up the pressure on the Italian with a flawless round that was highlighted by five birdies.
It was always going to be a close tussle for the lead with the top three leaders at the top of their game. But with memories of 2007 edition still fresh in his mind, the Englishman is not discounting anyone from lifting the title on the final day.
“I think we both played pretty well. It will be a nice day tomorrow, a good three‑ball between Luke, Francesco and myself. Obviously we’re all playing the best golf out there as we've left a bit of a gap from the people behind,” said Westwood.
“But you don't miscount anybody coming from behind, because I know what it's like. Three years ago, I was 10 behind with 10 holes to play and I got in a playoff.
I’ll just have to concentrate on doing the same things that I’ve done all week,” added Westwood of the final day drama which was eventually won by American Phil Mickelson that year.
Meanwhile Ireland’s Padraig Harrington had the honour of carding 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. I’m too far behind now but you never know as this golf course is tough enough that mistakes can be made and birdies can be made as well,” said the three-time Major winner who will tee off alongside South Africa’s Van Zyl Jaco and Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Noh Seung-yul of Korea in his final round.
Asian Tour GolfGreedy.com