(Reuters) - World number six Rory McIlroy produced some dazzling golf on the back nine to overcome a sniffling Tiger Woods by one shot in their lucrative ‘Match at Mission Hills’ in China on Monday.
The double major-winning Northern Irishman shot a six-under-par 67 to beat the world number one’s 68 in the exhibition match which, according to British media reports, earned both men in excess of $1.5 million.
McIlroy has endured a disappointing winless year but his game looked to be heading in the right direction for the final weeks of the European Tour season WITH a second victory over Woods following his one-shot success in the ‘Duel at Jinsha Lake’ last year.
“He schooled me twice,” Woods said to much laughter after the friendly round, only for McIlroy to swiftly interject and downplay the achievement.
“Well, I don’t know about that, I beat you by one shot twice,” the former U.S. Open and U.S. PGA Champion smiled.
Both men wore microphones as they played, but it appeared Woods forgot that his every word was being made public as he was heard swearing on several occasions.
Twice he swore when describing a cold he has been suffering from for the last week, while television commentators were forced to apologize when further colorful language was uttered by the 14-times major winner on the 17th hole.
McIlroy told the on-course interviewer during his round that he wanted to win the match but the friendly chit-chat and lack of intensity, particularly from the renowned fighter Woods, was obvious throughout the contest.
The two were heard laughing and joking and discussed golf club design, pollution in China and the recent Presidents Cup in which an America side featuring Woods once again beat the International team.
The Blackstone Course on Hainan Island had been shortened for the duel, according to McIlroy, and with hardly any rough, organizers had done their best to create a birdie fest.
Unfortunately for the galleries that swarmed the two golfers at every opportunity, the duel did not light up until the golfers had made the turn for the inward nine.
Woods, playing for the first time since October 6, complained of rustiness after pulling his opening tee shot while McIlroy started solidly with birdies on the first two holes.
However, the Briton’s joy was short-lived as McIlroy then carelessly three-putted the par-three fifth to fall back to level par.
Woods, who said he had picked up the cold from one of his children during his period away from competition, birdied the third, fourth and ninth to reach the turn at one-under, one ahead of his 24-year-old opponent.
Thankfully for the crowd and organizers, the level of competition improved on the back nine with both players eagling the par five 12th as McIlroy came close to a rare albatross with an exquisite approach.
Both then birdied the 13th while McIlory pulled level at four-under by sinking a five-footer to pick up another shot on the 14th.
The pair birdied the 300-yard driveable par four 16th before Woods made a crucial error on the 17th when he appeared to misjudge his approach to the green which fell well short and led to a bogey.
That left McIlory one ahead heading up the par-five 18th where both men found the green in two but Woods missed with his eagle effort to allow the mop-haired McIlroy to roll in a short birdie putt for the win.
“I enjoyed it. We didn’t play probably our best on the front nine but on the back nine we got it going,” Woods said.
Writing by Patrick Johnston