Shanghai: Francesco Molinari bagged a breathtaking eagle to maintain a one-shot lead over world number one Lee Westwood and leave the HSBC Champions tournament on a knife-edge heading into Sunday’s final round.
Molinari brought gasps from the gallery by holing out from 150 yards off the par-four 13th fairway before finishing the day at 14 under par after three rounds.
“There was a little mound in front of the hole and I couldn’t really see,” said Molinari. “But then the crowd was quite loud, so it went in, and I had just bogeyed the 12th. So it was a really good moment.”
England’s Luke Donald is in third place on 10 under, with countryman Ross Fisher and Scotland’s Richie Ramsay tied for fourth on eight under, along with South African Ernie Els.
Westwood finished on 13 under despite missing an earlier birdie to draw level -- and an aggressive drive across the water on 18 -- as the 37-year-old tried to claw back his Ryder Cup team mate’s slender advantage.
“I think we both played pretty well. It will be a nice day tomorrow, a good three-ball -- myself, Luke and Francesco,” said Westwood.
“Obviously we’re playing the best out of anybody, because we’ve left a bit of a gap from the people behind.”
The Englishman has maintained his steady form in his first tournament since toppling Tiger Woods from top spot in the world rankings, carding five birdies in a flawless round.
He is on course to stay at the summit as closest rivals Woods, third-ranked Martin Kaymer and fourth-ranked Phil Mickelson failed to mount a significant challenge in China.
A victory for any of the chasing trio at the tough Sheshan course would see them leap frog Westwood into top spot in the rankings.
Westwood, however, said he was focused entirely on his won peformance.
“When I play a golf tournament I look at the leaderboard but I don’t see any other names. I see my name and the scores, and right now I’m one behind the leader, which won’t win the golf tournament tomorrow afternoon,” he said.
“It felt good out there and the most pleasing thing was my ankle felt the best it has done all week. I’m gradually building up my leg muscles again, walking around the golf course,” added Westwoon, who had a three-week lay-off because of injury.
Woods endured another disappointing day of birdies and bogeys, slipping to a tie for 17th on three under and virtually out of contention.
“It was not a very good day,” said Woods. “I missed a lot of makeable putts, and didn’t hit the ball very well. I just never got anything going.”