The Hong Kong Open does not sound as prestigious as the US Open, but Rory McIlroy revealed "that was the most excited I have ever been on a golf course" after shooting a brilliant 65 to win in Fanling yesterday.
The 22-year-old McIlroy said: "I had a lot to play for – trying to keep my hopes alive for the Race to Dubai and, after waking up to find out Lee [Westwood] had shot a 62 in Sun City, I knew I needed to produce a really good score to win if I wanted to keep my world No 2 ranking. It was nice to be able to do both."
McIlroy did so in emphatic style, chipping in on the last. The Ulsterman came into the event feeling the effects of 10 weeks on the road but after a 12-hour sleep followed, naturally, by a 5km run in the morning, shrugged off the fatigue which plagued him during Saturday's third-round 70. All the pressure was also shrugged off: McIlroy has had his doubters when it comes to surviving in the heat of battle.
Three behind overnight, he closed with a flawless five-under round for a 12-under total, two better than France's Gregory Havret. In a bunker at the 18th, one shot up, the spotlight was trained on a supposedly brittle temperament. When his chip disappeared into the hole, he punched the air.
With last month's win in China, this was McIlroy's fifth career title and his third of the year. The Shanghai Masters netted him £1.25m, but this £295,000 first prize meant more to McIlroy. Not only does it give him an outside chance of overhauling Luke Donald at the Dubai World Championship, the season-ending finale which begins on Thursday – if he wins and Donald finishes outside the top 10, McIlroy collects a near-£1m jackpot – but a few Hong Kong ghosts were exorcised as well. He has been runner-up there twice, including an agonising play-off loss to Lin Wen-tang three years ago.
"That's the most excited I've ever been on a golf course," he said. "I just hit a perfect bunker shot and once it landed on the green, it never looked like going anywhere else."
In South Africa, world No 3 Westwood coasted home after Saturday's remarkable 10-under 62 round to retain his Nedbank Challenge title. Six strokes up, Westwood posted a 73 for a 15-under total to beat Robert Karlsson by two strokes and so collect the £830,000 first prize.
"Yesterday was probably the best round I've ever played," he said.
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