Saturday 25 February 2017

McIlroy lives up to billing with sizzling 63

Bernie McGuire in Hong Kong

Rory McIlroy arrived in Hong Kong to great fanfare and didn't disappoint during yesterday's first round. Photo: Reuters
Rory McIlroy arrived in Hong Kong to great fanfare and didn't disappoint during yesterday's first round. Photo: Reuters

There is a remarkable five-storey-high photograph of Rory McIlroy in bustling downtown Hong Kong promoting the Hong Kong Open.

The photograph bears the caption 'Witness Greatness' and it could not be more appropriate following yesterday's opening round. McIlroy again displayed his greatness -- as well as his relish for the suburban Fanling course -- to reel off eight birdies in a sizzling score of 63 in the co-sanctioned Asian and European Tour event.

The 21-year-old Ulsterman has been runner-up in this event for the past two years and, although preferred lies were in operation yesterday, the score is his lowest in 11 rounds of the event.

McIlroy's score was unmatched until late in the afternoon when New Zealand's Mark Brown signed for an eight-under-par 62. Jeev Milkha Singh then signed for a 63.

But while McIlroy's picture towers over a large section of the city, the spelling of the young Ulsterman's name certainly confused some of the scoreboard staff about the course. There was the name 'Micllroy' on one hole and at the 17th the name 'Milcroy'.

Whatever spelling, McIlroy was delighted with an effort that included playing a shot left-handed from trees en route to his only bogey at his 15th hole, the sixth.

"You always feel as though you can do better and I really should have had a few more birdies, but you can't have everything," said McIlroy.

"It's a great start; the conditions out there were perfect for scoring."

Graeme McDowell and Damien McGrane made it an Irish 'Mac Attack' to end the round just three behind Brown after both signing for five-under-par 65s. McDowell dropped a shot at his last, the ninth, when he was also in trees but the US Open champion is brimming with confidence as he strives to reel in Race to Dubai rival Martin Kaymer.

Travelling

"I am actually surprised how much I am in the zone and how good I feel," said McDowell. "I was a bit worried about this run of events because I don't normally play five events in a row, and also to have undertaken so much long-distance travelling.

"I've been from Spain to Shanghai, and then Shanghai to Singapore and now up to Hong Kong, and then Sunday night to Dubai. So I can't believe how good I feel.

"This week is all about a mixture of trying to stay sharp and focused and trying to win this tournament, but also resting as much as I can for next week."

But while McIlroy and McDowell are firm favourites, McGrane is just as determined to ensure he's the 'biggest Mac' on Sunday night.

"It's great to go to so many tournaments and see so many Irish players at the top of the leaderboard," he said. "It's our time. We may only be a small country but we are big in golf and we are all feeding off each other.

"Whenever I go a tournament now I look up at the leaderboard and I see three or four of us up there all the time and the confidence grows."

Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin, who was also in the hunt with McGrane and McDowell at Valderrama, would have been up in the top 10 here had he not three-putted from the front edge of the ninth green -- his last -- for a 67.

Michael Hoey and Shane Lowry both shot 68, Paul McGinley had a 69, while Peter Lawrie had a 70 and Darren Clarke took 72.

Hong Kong Open, Day 2,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 5.0am.

Highlights, Sky Sports 2, 12.0

Irish Independent

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