Graeme McDowell shaved the hole with a putt to get into a playoff that saw Bubba Watson beat Tim Clark with a birdie having spectacularly holed a bunker shot at the 72nd hole to force extra time.
Struggling early on and lacking the sharpness with the putter he'd shown on the first two days, McDowell needed an 18 footer at the last to join Watson and Clark on 11 under par.
In the end, he had to settle for a par five, a 73 and a share of third with Rickie Fowler (70) and Japan’s Hiroshi Iwata (72) but still rose to ninth in the Race to Dubai, winning $381,666 for his efforts.
The magical finish came just a few moments earlier in the group ahead of McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Iwata and it was Watson who provided it.
The Masters champion looked out of contention after he double bogeyed the par three 17th, but he holed a bunker shot for eagle on the last to sign for a two under par 70 and an 11 under total.
South African Tim Clark matched playing partner Watson with a birdie from five feet to join him on 11 under and looked on as McDowell, Iwata and Kaymer attempted to birdie the last to join them.
All three laid up short but Kaymer found water over the green with his third and took seven for a 73 that relegated him to tied sixth with Thorbjorn Olesen and Ian Poulter on eight under.
Iwata left himself 25 feet and came up short before McDowell shaved the cup with his birdie effort in his bid to keep alive his hopes of a wire-to-wire win and a leap to second in the Race to Dubai.
As Watson holed a 20 footer in the playoff to beat Clark with a birdie four, McDowell was left to reflect on what might have been.
“To be brutally honest, I didn't have my A-game all week," said McDowell, who made just one birdie against two bogeys in the final round." And to be in the situation I was in, leading all week, going into the last day, the golf course just got so difficult this weekend.
"The pins were evil at times and you really had to be on your iron play to have a chance to access them, and I didn't play well enough. The putter that was so hot early in the week kind of cooled off this weekend. But to finish tied third in this type of field, not playing my best, I have to count myself fairly fortunate.
"Of course I'd love to have made the play-off. I had a decent putt at the last but over‑read it a bit. I’m disappointed but I'll look back on it as a solid week.”
Shane Lowry closed with a 68 to claim 34th place on one under but looks likely to remain at 51st in the world with McDowell up two spots to 15th.
The Offaly man slipped one place to 15th in the Race to Dubai after picking up 77,230 points and $65,000. (The Top 15 after the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai will share a $5m Bonus Pool with the season-ending No 1 getting $1.25m and the player ranked 15th, $100,000.
As for Watson, he was thrilled with his incredible finish and his first win on foreign soil.
“It’s always been one of my goals to win outside the US, so this means a lot," said Watson, who won $1.4m. "I messed up on 17 with the bunker shot and then hit a perfect bunker shot on 18 - it's weird.
"Clark was in there tight and had a chance to win, but I holed it before he putted. The Chinese know how to run a golf tournament. This is a special place. HSBC, they put their stamp on it, they have run a great golf tournament and are a great sponsor for golf.”