Rory McIlroy enjoyed one of his best rounds of a disappointing season to storm into a two-shot lead over a star-studded field at the US$8.5 million WGC-HSBC Champions tournament yesterday.
Displaying a deft short game with a new lob wedge, McIlroy reeled off eight birdies en route to a first round seven-under-par 65 at the World Golf Championship event at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.
Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Welshman Jamie Donaldson are tied for second on five-under, one ahead of a group of four players that includes US prospect Jordan Spieth and Briton Justin Rose.
After cruising along nicely for 16 holes, British Open champion and two-time WGC-HSBC winner Phil Mickelson looked primed to challenge McIlroy’s lead until he suffered a dramatic late-round meltdown to fall off the pace.
The left-hander dropped four strokes at the par-five eighth — his 17th — where he twice found the pond in front of the green and also dropped a shot at the ninth after pulling his second into the water for a one-under 71.
McIlroy had no such misadventures, with his only dropped shot coming on the 11th hole, his second of the round.
“It’s only one round, but it’s definitely the way I wanted and needed to start this week,” said the two-time major champion, who was ranked No. 1 in the world as recently as March, but has yet to record a victory this season.
However, refreshed after a four-week break and armed with a new driver and ball, the world No. 6 looked to have rediscovered the swagger that carried him to order of merit titles on the European and PGA Tours a year ago.
His improvement was not readily apparent in his tie for 27th at last week’s BMW Masters, also played in Shanghai, but when he beat Tiger Woods in an exhibition on Monday, his timing and demeanor around the course looked like the McIlroy of old.
McIlroy isa surprising 62nd on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, for which only the top 60 qualify.