The day before his 28th birthday, Francesco Molinari put the finishing touches on four days of incredible golf, becoming the first wire-to-wire winner of the WGC-HSBC Champions and emphatically proving that world golf in 2010 belonged almost exclusively to Europe, Tim Maitland reports.
For the first time Europe Tour members claimed three of the four WGC titles (Ian Poulter won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and Ernie Els took the WGC-CA Championship) to add to three Majors (Graeme McDowell/US Open, Louis Oosthuizen/Open Championship and Martin Kaymer/PGA Championship) and the small matter of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.
“I'm a European Tour Member, I'm proud to be a European Tour golfer, and it's a great moment for European golf and I'm really happy to give my contribution to that,” said Molinari, who also capped an unprecedented year for Italian golf too, by adding his name to that of his brother Edoardo and teenager Matteo Manassero on the season’s list of winners.
Positioned first and second each day and separated only by one shot at the close of each round on the further-toughened Sheshan International Golf Club track, Molinari and new world number-one Lee Westwood put on a stunning display throughout.
On the final day both shot five-under-par 67s (a score bettered only by Katsumasa Miyamoto), despite being in the pressure-cooker environment of the leading group. Neither had a bogey in their final round, and Westwood’s cards were unblemished throughout the weekend as the two of them left the rest of a world-class field miles behind; Luke Donald and Richie Ramsey tied for third, ten shots adrift of Molinari’s 19-under total of 269.
“I think the difference in score between us and the rest of the field shows you how good [sic] we played, and I'm sure it was a great show for everybody who was watching here on TV, as well,” said the Inter Milan fan, who apart from winning the Omega Mission Hills World Cup for Italy with his brother in 2009, was probably best known for being on the wrong end of a Tiger Woods master-class on the final day at Celtic Manor.
“I'm obviously amazed the way I played, and you know, to have the number-one player in the world trailing you by one shot, it's not easy. I was under pressure all the time, pretty much from the first round. It's great, not only the way I hit the ball, but the way the mind was working.
I managed to stay calm, play my game, and holed putts when I had to hole putts. I think the experience of playing with Tiger Woods in The Ryder Cup definitely helped me in the last couple of days. Obviously they [Woods and Westwood] are different players, but when you are playing against the number-one golfer in the world, it is not easy to always stick to the game plan and do your own game,” Molinari said.
For the first time in the history of golf, the world number one ranking was up for grabs at an Asian tournament.
Westwood, in defeat, won the four-way battle with Woods, Kaymer and Mickelson. Tiger Woods was sixth on 7-under, Kaymer 30th on minus 2 and Phil Mickelson, twice a Shanghai winner, 41st and one-over par for the tournament. Having arrived at the HSBC Champions as the newly-crowned world number one, ending Tiger’s five-year monopoly of the position, Westwood delivered a display worthy of that ranking and further strengthened his grip on it.
“No negatives in a performance like that!” Westwood declared. “The rankings come as a consequence of playing well, and I'm playing well and I know I am.”
As well as Westwood winning the skirmish for the number one ranking, the Englishman proved that he had taken up another of Tiger’s mantles. The world number one has now been in contention in the final holes on the final day of the HSBC Champions three times. Just as Tiger Woods did in 2005 and 2006, in 2010 the world number one also came second.
All the other battles within the battle went to Europe too. In the first encounter of the game’s great and good since Celtic Manor four members of the winning Ryder Cup team were in the top five – Molinari, Westwood, Donald and Rory McIlroy. Only one American team member – Woods – made it into the top 20 in Shanghai, against eight of the twelve in the European side.
The other winners were the tournament itself and golf in China and Asia. After a successful debut as a WGC event in 2009, 2010 confirmed that the concept of a World Golf Championship event on the other side of the world to golf’s heartlands is a success. Crowds were close to 2009’s record-setting figures with over 31,000 attending the event, and the record-breaking TV coverage increased again, particularly with highlight shows on terrestrial channels in Asia.
To put the rise of the HSBC Champions in perspective, two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen struggled to think of another event anywhere in the world during his career that has risen to prominence the way the Shanghai tournament has since its inception in 2005.
“Good question. Not too many,” said ‘The Goose’. “I’m thinking about the event at Quail Hollow in America; that became very popular within five years: a great golf course, good field. But for an international event this is definitely the number one!”
Thanks to Tim Maitland for a tournament wrap-up of the WGC-HSBC Champions Tournament!
Follow the conversation! Join Golf4Beginners on Twitter