RORY McIlroy won for the first time this year – even if it was an 18-hole exhibition against Tiger Woods.
McIlroy made four birdies and an eagle over the last seven holes at Mission Hills in China for a six-under 67, giving him a one-shot win over Woods. It was the second straight year McIlroy has defeated Woods, the world No 1, at the medal match in China.
“I would like to play all my tournaments in China, where I can beat Tiger,” McIlroy said.
Even an unofficial win has to count for something. He beat Woods last year at Jinsha Lake under far different circumstances. McIlroy was a major champion, No 1 in the world and on his way to sweeping all the important awards.
He signed a lucrative deal with Nike a short time later, and this season has been a struggle. McIlroy has had only one reasonable chance to win a tournament, and he didn’t even qualify for the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour.
He is using a new driver and a softer golf ball, even prompting Woods to say to him after one chip, “How did you do that?”
The banter was free and easy, mostly about equipment. Woods was trying to recover from a virus he picked up from his daughter, and spent most of the afternoon asking his caddie for cough drops.
The golf was spectacular over the final hour on the Blackstone Course, however.
Woods had a one-shot lead and hit a marvellous approach to ten feet on the par-5 12th. McIlroy followed with a long iron into five feet, and both made eagle. They both made birdie on the 13th, and McIlroy caught him with a 6-foot birdie on the 14th.
They birdied the 16th to reach five-under and the match turned on the next hole. Woods came up short on his approach to the 17th, and after nearly flying his pitch into the cup, he missed a 5-foot par putt. Woods had a 20-foot eagle putt on the 18th for the tie. He missed, and McIlroy knocked in his 3-foot birdie.
Woods could hardly raise his voice after the round. “I don’t sound all that well now, but it was nice that it was warm out there today,” said the 14-times major winner.
“That certainly helped because I think my fever broke and I can start feeling a bit better. But I tell you what, when you have kids, they bring home some strong bugs, and this one has definitely been kicking my butt for the last couple of days.”
McIlroy was headed back to Shanghai for the HSBC Champions. Woods is skipping the World Golf Championship, and will play next week in the Turkish Open.
“I’ve seen a lot of promising signs over the past few weeks in practice and also in competitive play,” McIlroy said. “I still have four tournaments left until the end of the season and I would love to finish 2013 strongly and get a little bit of momentum going into next season. But I think as I showed out there, I’m hitting the ball well.
“If I can just get the putter going a little bit more, then in these last four tournaments I can hope to contend and maybe pick up a win or two.”
He could do with one this weekend. Lying 62nd on the European Tour money-list this season, it’s his last chance to get into the season-ending event in Dubai in a fortnight’s time.
Meanwhile, Ryan Moore birdied the first play-off hole to claim the title as he and Gary Woodland returned yesterday morning to complete the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur.
Bad weather meant the tournament could not be finished on Sunday and, with with Moore and Woodland tied on 14 under, they came back to decide a winner at the par-5 18th.
Woodland, who missed a putt for the title on Sunday, was in trouble when he found the rough with his second and, while Moore was on the green in three, he was again in trouble as his approach went right.
Woodland chipped impressively to two feet, but Moore holed a four-foot birdie putt to claim the title.
Moore told the official PGA Tour website: “It’s been a fun week. I started with a bit of a flurry on the first day, making a bunch of birdies, then cooled down a little bit but was able to do what I had to do to get to this point.
“Fortunately I hit a great shot there and left myself a nice short putt.
“I’ve been putting in the effort, putting in the time and it’s nice to see it pan out.”
Martin Laird finished in a tie for 61st after disappointing closing rounds of 76 and 78 for a total of 292.