Resurgent McIlroy off to Dubai on a high
Superb 65 earns Ulsterman second title in a month to set up European Tour showdown
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.
Plainly this was a title for which the 22-year-old was desperate. Not only does he adore the layout, but there was so much resting on the victory. Said McIlroy: "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.
Starting the day three behind, he conjured a five-under final round for a 12-under total which ultimately saw him prevail by two shots over France's Gregory Havret. After four birdies and no bogeys he came to the 18th with a one-shot lead and so the spotlight glared on a supposedly brittle temperament.
In the circumstances,an up-and-down from a greenside bunker would have been extremely commendable – but McIlroy had something more impressive in store. The ball disappeared and 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 had finished 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. I think you could see how much that meant to me. It was just incredible to see the ball drop and realise I'd finally won this tournament. I've loved it ever since I played my first one here in '07. I felt like the last [hole] owed me something after what happened in the play-off, in a way."
The Ulsterman added: "I've given myself a shout in Dubai. It's very dependent on what Luke does, because he's got such a big lead [£680,000] but if I can somehow get myself into contention, you never know."
In South Africa, Westwood duly converted Saturday's remarkable 10-under round into a successful defence of the Nedbank Golf Challenge. With a six-stroke lead, Westwood was able to post a one-under 73 for a 15-under total to beat Robert Karlsson by two strokes and so collect the £830,000 first prize.
"I love playing this course and to win back-to-back titles is a bit special," said Westwood, who last year won by eight shots. "Yesterday was probably the best round I've ever played. It set me up to play conservatively today. It's very satisfying."
The quality of that 62 was highlighted on the scoreboard. It was the best round of the week – by five shots.
Donald, playing his first event in five weeks, finished 10 shots behind his fellow Englishman in seventh, but as he heads to Dubai, where he will bid to become the first player ever to win both the US and European money lists in the same year, he will be happy to have blown away the rust.
Last night all eyes were on the Chevron World Challenge in California, where Tiger Woods was attempting to win his first title in more than two years. The former world No 1, who promotes the event at Sherwood Country Club, was one behind Zach Johnson after a disappointing third-round 73 in windy conditions on Saturday. Johnson holed his seven-iron shot from the fairway to eagle the 18th to post a 68 and, on eight-under, overtake Woods.
As Woods headed into the final round he was far from disheartened. "Even though I made three bogeys on par fives, and had two three-putts, I played well," Woods said. "I hit a lot of good shots that ended up in bad spots because I had bad gusts. Most of the time today, it wasn't me. So be it. That's the way it goes. I'm right there with a chance."
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