Rory McIlroy beat Tiger Woods by a single shot in their 18-hole “Duel at Jinsha Lake” in China Monday in a high quality showdown before a frenzied audience that came to greet the world’s top two.
Having flown in late on Sunday night after coming second and fourth that day respectively in the BMW Masters in Shanghai and the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, McIlroy and Woods had any tiredness quickly extinguished by a surreal and lavish opening ceremony.
They were greeted by drum majorettes, fireworks and speeches from local dignitaries before clanging a ceremonial Chinese gong and having their handprints and autographs immortalised in clay, Hollywood-style appropriately for McIlroy, who was brought up in Holywood, Belfast.
World number one McIlroy carded a five under par 67 on the 7,039-yard, par-72 layout at Jinsha Lake Golf Club, with world number two and 14 times major winner Woods registering a 68.
It was remarkable scoring given the chaotic crowds constantly taking photos, letting their phones ring and refusing to stand still or be quiet even as the players were swinging.
McIlroy grabbed an immediate birdie at the first hole, after struggling to keep a straight face in posing for photos staring Woods down boxing-style, and was never headed, thus gaining a modicum of revenge for his seven-stroke defeat when the pair last met in Turkey.
“I got off to a good start,” McIlroy said. “And just tried to keep my nose in front.”
“We had a great match,” Woods told reporters afterwards. “It was a lot of fun and a great exhibition. I think everyone enjoyed it.”
China is seen as the next great market for golf to conquer in its global expansion, and the fans clearly love it though are mostly oblivious to the etiquette of the game, demonstrated amply when they broke through the ropes and invaded the driving range as McIlroy and Woods warmed up.
Soon after there were comical scenes as they sprinted on and purloined all the expensive golf balls as the players attempted to leave. The melee continued at the players stood on the first tee, with stewards and security men trying and failing to stop the frenzied crowds bursting through the ropes.
“This is certainly not like most Mondays,” said Woods afterwards, smiling.
“It’s been a different one, hasn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t say it was crazy out there. The word I would use is ‘enthusiastic’,” said McIlroy.
“It’s good to see so many people out there. So many people that follow golf and want to watch us play. I hope that continues.”
The international golf media present were astounded at the never-before-seen antics on a golf course: leisure helicopters parked alongside putting greens; models in revealing evening gowns standing on tees; and enthusiastic spectators being tackled to the ground as they attempted to out sprint security guards.
A luxury yacht even sailed serenely across a lake in front of Woods playing an approach shot.
The sheer decadence of the occasion, coinciding with the launch of the multi-million dollar “Golf Villas” to be built around the golf course, was in vivid contrast to the stark industrial conurbation of Zhengzhou just a few kilometres down the road.
It is home to around 10 million people, capital of Henan province and one of the eight ancient capitals of China. But the line-up of luxury cars parked around the clubhouse – including Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris, Aston Martins and Maseratis – were pure Monaco.
The world’s top two, though clearly here to spread the gospel of golf to a new and lucrative audience, did pick up a handsome pay day rumoured to be $2m between them for a day’s work.
Woods’s next stop is Singapore, while McIlroy is off to Bulgaria. At least it should be quieter in Sofia.