McIlroy masters Woods


RORY McILROY staked an early lead before holding on to win by a stroke in his “Duel at Jinsha Lake” 18-hole exhibition event against Tiger Woods yesterday.

It was only the third time in 11 head-to-head clashes that the Irishman had prevailed.

“It was a pretty exciting day and the match was pretty close all day,” said McIlroy just 24 hours after finishing second in the European Tour BMW Masters event in Shanghai.

The world number one moved into a lead he would never relinquish against his American opponent when he birdied two of his opening three holes and Woods dropped a shot on the third, before going on to sign for a bogey-free five-under 67.

On a cool and misty day in front of an enthusiastic gallery, double major winner McIlroy made the turn two shots clear of Woods at three-under par in the medal match-play encounter.

Woods, who was playing in China for a first time in two years, clawed a shot back when he chipped in from off the green at the par-three 12th. But he slipped two behind again with a bogey on the next.

The world number two birdied the 14th to reapply the pressure back on McIlroy and after both players picked up shots on the 15th, they each parred the final three holes with Woods almost forcing a play-off when he almost chipped in on the last.

“I got off to a good start and had a little bit of advantage for the first few holes but then Tiger birdied a few on the back nine. All I was trying to do was to keep myself ahead and I managed to do that,” he added.

Woods arrived in Zhengzhou having finished fourth in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia on Sunday and was looking for a repeat win over McIlroy after handing the Irishman a seven-shot round-robin defeat in the recent World Golf Final in Turkey.

However, both players struggled with the speed of the Jinsha Lake greens while staff fought a constant battle with fans, who often broke through security lines to see the action.

Despite his defeat, Woods hinted he would welcome further opportunities to go head-to-head against McIlroy in similar end-of-season exhibition matches.

“This certainly was not my usual way I spend Mondays but to have this many people come out and watch us play golf . . . was something special,” Woods said.

“These events don’t happen that often and it was just great to see everyone so excited to see us come here and excited to watch us play,” the 14-time major champion added.

“So as far as doing something like this down the road, it would be fun. We’re ranked one and two in the world respectively and to have matches like this to promote the game of golf is what it’s all about.”

Neither player is staying on in the country for this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions at Mission Hills.

McIlroy, flying to Bulgaria to watch tennis girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, next plays at the Singapore Open next week, while Woods has one event left in 2012 – the World Challenge in California at the end of next month.

“The growth of the game here has been huge even in the few years I’ve been visiting and I really hope that games like these can inspire some kids who want to play the game,” said McIlroy.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if one of the next great players was to come from China. With it being an Olympic sport (from 2016), the interest is growing more and more.”

Woods said: “We actually both played pretty decent golf. We left a lot of putts out there and we could have really shot some low numbers. I’ve come here for 11 years now and it’s amazing how much the game has grown.”

Former world number two Sergio Garcia will make his comeback after eye surgery in the European Tour’s season-ending Dubai World Championship next month.

The 32-year-old Spaniard, who has not played since Europe’ Ryder Cup victory over the United States in Chicago four weeks ago, had an operation this month to correct an astigmatism.

“I had the surgery but everything went very well,” Garcia said yesterday. “I will have three tournaments towards the end of the year. I hope I can play good, finish on a high note and get ready for next year.”

The 2015 Solheim Cup will be held at the St Leon-Rot Golf Club near Heidelberg, an hour’s drive from Frankfurt, the Ladies European Tour announced yesterday.

“It will be a fantastic experience for our golf in Germany,” said Sandra Gal, a member of the victorious 2011 European team.

“I am sure my home country will be a great host,” she added.

Gal helped her side beat the United States 15-13 in the biennial event at Killeen Castle in Dunsany, Co Meath last year.

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