Francesco Molinari holed out for eagle from the 13th fairway, matched the lowest score of the third round and still had to make a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole to keep the lead over Lee Westwood in the HSBC Champions on Saturday.
Westwood looked like he might finally catch up when he chipped from just off the green on the par-5 18th to tap-in range for birdie and a 5-under 67. Molinari, who had to lay up on the hole, knocked in his putt from the back of the green for a 67.
They have been separated by one shot after every round, and the duel figures to be settled Sunday at Sheshan International.
Molinari was at 14-under 202.
"It was a really eventful round, and it was a bit of a roller coaster, because I hit some great shots and some not-so-great shots," Molinari said. "All in all, I'm obviously very happy. To still be one in front of Lee going into Sunday, it's a really good position."
Luke Donald of England was about the only player keeping this from being a two-man race. He had a 68 and was four shots behind.
Westwood at least was assured of keeping his No. 1 ranking for another week as the other three players with a chance to overtake him faltered on a breezy afternoon.
Tiger Woods hooked his tee shot into the water on the par-5 second hole for the second straight day, and his back-to-back bogeys early in the round stalled him. He shot a 73 and was 11 shots out of the lead.
Barring a most improbable comeback, Woods will end his PGA Tour season without a victory for the first time in his career. He will have had 14 years with at least one victory, three years short of the record held by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. And approaching his 35th birthday, this is not a streak he can start over.
"Not a very good day," Woods said. "I missed a lot of makable putts, didn't hit the ball very well and just never got anything going."
Defending champion Phil Mickelson also took bogey on the second hole, his from the trees, and shot a 76 to fall back to even-par 216. PGA champion Martin Kaymer had a 74 and was at 1-under 215.
This World Golf Championship event sure had a European feel to it in Shanghai.
The top six players are European Tour members. Ross Fisher rallied for a 69 and was in the group at 8-under 208 that included Ernie Els (71) and Richie Ramsay (71).
Padraig Harrington was in the group at 6 under thanks to the shot of the tournament — he holed a fairway metal for an albatross on the par-5 14th hole, although he dropped two shots after that in his round of 70.
Els overcame a 38 on the front nine to at least give himself a chance of joining Woods and Mickelson as the only players to win two World Golf Championships in the same year.
Westwood had a chance to take the lead on the 16th with a chip into 4 feet for a great look at birdie. Molinari hit a poor wedge, then ran his birdie putt some 10 feet by the hole. But the Italian saved his par, and Westwood missed his birdie.
Molinari and Westwood were tied early in the round, but Molinari kept his nose in front, then built a cushion with his soft 7-iron into the breeze from 160 yards on the 13th that cleared a ridge and rolled into the cup. He never saw it go in, tamping down his divot when he the roar from the gallery got his attention.
Westwood followed with a 9-iron to 6 feet for birdie, which at least kept him close.
For Molinari, it's another shot at No. 1.
He faced Woods in singles at the Ryder Cup, only to watch the former No. 1 put on a dazzling display of shotmaking. Woods was 9 under through 15 holes when he won the match.
Now he gets the new No. 1, and Molinari doesn't see much difference.
"It's quite similar," Molinari said. "They are both exceptional players. Tiger played really well at the Ryder Cup against me, and Lee is playing very well this week."
Westwood was thrilled to reach No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career, and he has quickly put that behind him. He said his only goal this week was to win a World Golf Championship, which he emphasized after having already answered the question.
Taking back the microphone in his news conference, Westwood added, "I see my name and the scores. And right now, I'm one behind."
He was most happy with keeping bogeys off his card, and with the fact his right ankle has felt as good as it has since he took his long breaks from tour the first week in August.