|Molinari held off a dogged Lee Westwood [pictured] to maintain a one-shot lead over the new world number one [AFP]
Francesco Molinari outlasted Lee Westwood in a spirited duel in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, for a one-shot victory to capture his first World Golf Championship and continue a memorable year for Italy.
Molinari closed with a 5-under 67 at Sheshan International for his first win this season, and only the second of his career.
"It wasn't easy ... I'm just really proud of the way I played and the way I handled myself," Molinari said on Sunday
"Lee is No. 1 in the world, and he was playing some fantastic golf. It was a great finish at the end".
He spoiled the debut of Westwood as the world's No. 1 player, although the Englishman put up a fight worthy of his ranking.
Two shots behind on the par-5 18th, Westwood hit a powerful drive that left him only an iron into the green. He had a 25-foot eagle putt to force a playoff, but the ball stayed left of the hole the entire way, 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.
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.
"It makes me work a little harder," Molinari said: "Because I wanted to contribute to this golden moment of Italian golf".
Molinari, who earned $1.2m, moved to No. 14 in the world ranking, three spots ahead of his 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 had already made birdie. When they reached the back nine, they were well clear of the rest of the pack.
Westwood had a few bad breaks down the stretch, made big putts and whipped everyone in this field except for one player.
"I mean, 18-under par and nine shots clear of third is never too bad," Westwood 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.
He 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 was a lock when Westwood pulled his tee shot on the par-3 17th into a bunker, then blasted out 15 feet by 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, although he is still not safe.
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.
"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".
Tiger Woods closed with a 68 and tied for sixth, 13 shots behind. It was only his third top 10 of the year, and his best finish since a tie for fourth at the US 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".
Richie Ramsay of Scotland closed with a 71 and tied for third with Luke Donald, who faltered to a 73. For Ramsay, it was enough to secure a spot in the Race to Dubai finale at the end of the month.
Rory McIlroy had a 67 for a 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 over Sheshan International.