Shanghai showdown

Francesco Molinari of Italy, right, is congratulated by Lee Westwood of England after winning the 2010 HSBC Champions at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.

Francesco Molinari of Italy, right, is congratulated by Lee Westwood of England after winning the 2010 HSBC Champions at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.

photo

Francesco Molinari after winning the HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

SHANGHAI, China – For a heated tournament that went down to the wire, Francesco Molinari and Lee Westwood appeared quite chummy Sunday.

Lifting the Ryder Cup together can do that.

Molinari of Italy withstood the challenge of world No. 1 Lee Westwood of England to claim the biggest victory of his career at the WGC-HSBC Champions.

Molinari closed with a 5-under 67 to win by one stroke at Sheshan International for his first win this season, and the second of his career.

Two shots behind on the par-5 18th, Westwood hit a powerful drive that left him an iron into the green. He had a 25-foot eagle putt to force a playoff, but the ball stayed left of the hole, and Westwood had to settle for a 67.

It was only his second stroke-play tournament in three months, and Westwood played the final 43 holes without a bogey.

Molinari finished at 19-under 269.

“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.”

Tiger Woods closed with a 68 and tied for sixth, 12 shots behind. It was only his third top 10 of the year, and his best finish since a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open. For the first time in his career, Woods failed to win on the PGA Tour, ending a streak of 14 years.

“That’s just the way it goes,” Woods said. “It’s not like I didn’t try. It just didn’t happen this year. But I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made of late. Things are building and heading in the right direction, which is good.”

Molinari had not won since the Italian Open four years ago. He became the third Italian to win on the European Tour this year, joining brother Edoardo Molinari and Matteo Manassero. No doubt, the other wins inspired him.

“It makes me work a little harder,” Molinari said, “because I wanted to contribute to this golden moment of Italian golf.”

In a poignant moment, Francesco departed the final green and was embraced by Edoardo, almost exactly a year after the brothers teamed to win the World Cup for Italy at Mission Hills in Shenzhen.

Francesco Molinari, who earned $1.2 million on the day before his 28th birthday, moved to No. 14 in the world ranking, three spots ahead of his older brother.

Molinari built a two-shot cushion with a birdie on the second, and Westwood twice made clutch putts on the front nine after Molinari already had made birdie. When they reached the back nine, they were well clear of the rest of the pack.

Richie Ramsay of Scotland closed with a 71 and tied for third with England’s Luke Donald, who struggled to a 73. For Ramsay, it was enough to secure a spot in the “Race to Dubai’’ finale, the Dubai World Championship, at the end of the month.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland shot 67 for a 280 total and European sweep of the top five spots.

Molinari only had to tap in for par on the final hole for his 67 – it was the third time this week he had the low round of the day – and walked off the course as fireworks lit up the hazy sky. The tournament was delayed 1 hour, 15 minutes at the start of the final round because of fog.

Westwood found little to complain about. He had a few bad breaks down the stretch, made big putts and whipped everyone in this field except for one guy.

“I mean, 18 under par and nine shots clear of third is never too bad,” he said. “Just needed the breaks to win, and it didn’t happen.”

The final round turned on the 16th.

Westwood’s tee shot on the 288-yard hole was just left of the green, with a pot bunker between him and the front flag. Molinari drove into the left rough, but hit a wedge to about 4 feet. Westwood had to play a delicate flop shot, and he caught it heavy. It didn’t clear the bunker, staying in the thick collar of grass, and he had to settle for par.

Molinari made his putt to go two shots up with two holes to play, and it looked as if he were a lock when Westwood pulled his tee shot on the par-3 17th into a bunker, then blasted out 15 feet past the hole. But as he had done all day, Westwood made yet another big putt to save par, then gave himself a chance on the 18th.

His runner-up finish gives Westwood a larger cushion in the battle for No. 1.

“It wasn’t really about the rankings,” Westwood said. “It was about trying to win this week. The rankings come as a consequence of playing well, and I’m playing well. I know I am. Today is just very typical of how I’ve played for the last two years.”

Korean teenager Seung-yul Noh was the leading Asian, in joint 16th place at 283.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson, who shot 73 and tied for 41st, and PGA champion Martin Kaymer, who shot 71 and tied for 30th, are playing next week in the Singapore Open. Woods remains at No. 2 and heads Down Under to defend at the Australian Masters.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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