The single stroke that separated Francesco Molinari and Lee Westwood from the outset of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, ultimately played to the Italian’s advantage as he inched past Westwood to claim his first victory of the season and second of his blossoming career. Both players fired identical, bogey-free 65’s for a wire-to-wire, dynamic Sunday duel.
The Italian phenom was in an unflappable groove this week, looking like Kobe "doin' work" late in the fourth quarter. Molinari averaged four birdies per round, ranked second in Putts Per Green in Regulation, and committed just four bogeys over four days.
But as consistent and unshakable as Molinari appeared, Westwood posed a constant threat by doing what he does best—playing ruthless, nearly mistake-free golf. The newly crowned No. 1 ranked player in the world had just a single bogey in each of his first two rounds and then shot consecutive, 5-under par 65’s over the weekend, with not so much as a blemish on his scorecard.
Though the victory evaded Westwood by a single stroke, he delivered a tenacious performance. Not only did he maintain his No. 1 ranking, but Westwood also earned his seventh top-10 finish in the 11 events he competed in this season on the PGA Tour, which include second place finishes at the Masters, British Open, and now WGC-HSBC.
Surprisingly, in a field stacked with the world’s longest hitters, craftiest chippers, and most dexterous putters, Molinari and Westwood nearly lapped the other 75 competitors by nine strokes. Richie Ramsay, a relatively unknown Scottish golfer, shot four consecutive rounds under-par to finish T3 at -9, tied with Luke Donald. Northern-Irish sensation, Rory McIlroy, fired three matching 1-under par 71’s, and then exploded with a 5-under 67 Sunday to finish in solo fifth at -8.
If grades were being given out based on performance, Tiger Woods deserves a "B"; not dismal, but decent.
The harsh reality for Woods remains that when you’ve dominated the game for a decade, expectations will be high regardless of the level of your game, the reputation of your new swing instructor, or even the state of your personal life.
While he demonstrated definite signs of progress, he is undeniably still ailing from inconsistency.
Woods’ first and fourth rounds were luminous, 4-under par 68’s, highlighted by precise, powerful drives and exceptional touch on and around the greens. But those two glorious rounds were sandwiched between two abysmal rounds of 72, 73, which paralyzed his chances of even getting within reach of Molinari and Westwood. Other than a pair of T4’s at the Masters and US Open, this T6 finish marks Woods’ third top-10 finish of the season.
Also at -7 was Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Paul Casey and Peter Hanson. Interestingly, Woods was the only American to finish inside the top-20, while a sea of young Americans like Bill Haas, Nick Watney, Anthony Kim, and Rickie Fowler settled for mediocre finishes.