SHANGHAI » Lee Westwood spent his career trying to be No. 1. The way he played yesterday in the HSBC Champions, it doesn’t look as though he wants to give up his prized ranking after just one week.
Even as Francesco Molinari of Italy made a charge to a 7-under 65 for a one-shot lead, the focus in the final World Golf Championship of the year quickly shifted to what could be a fascinating battle for No. 1.
In his debut as golf’s top-ranked player, Westwood birdied some of the toughest holes at Sheshan International and showed hardly any signs of rust from playing in his second stroke-play tournament in three months. He finished with back-to-back birdies for a 66.
Two shots behind Westwood was Tiger Woods, without his No. 1 ranking for the first time in more than five years. Woods made a most improbable par from behind the bushes with a 4-iron he had to aim away from loose tree roots, which proved more satisfying than the three straight birdies that sent him to a 68.
Not to be forgotten is the defending champion, fourth-ranked Phil Mickelson, who rallied for a 69. PGA champion Martin Kaymer, the No. 3 player, opened with a 72.
Any of those four could go to No. 1 this week.
"You just basically asked me how long a piece of string is, I think," Westwood replied when asked when the crowd near the top of the ranking might have some clarity. "I think the world rankings are reflective of how competitive world golf is at the moment."
Molinari would not have expected to be atop the leaderboard when he sent his wedge over the third green, his 12th hole, and faced a scary downhill chip. He turned bogey into birdie by chipping in, the start of four successive birdies without a bogey on his card.
"Everything seems in the right place at the moment," Molinari said.