Sunday 26 March 2017

McIlroy whips up sand storm

William S Callahan

Rory McIlroy poses with the trophy after winning the Hong Kong Open
Rory McIlroy poses with the trophy after winning the Hong Kong Open

RORY McILROY sent the massive crowd crazy and even went a little bonkers himself yesterday as he brought the Hong Kong Open to a rip-roaring climax and set the Race to Dubai back alight.

"I went nuts there," the Holywood star happily confessed moments after wrapping up his fifth victory as a professional with a sensational chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the final hole in Fanling.

"That's as nuts as I've ever been on a golf course," added the ecstatic Ulsterman, whose own fist-pumping, wild-eyed celebrations were lost in the cacophony stirred by a true stroke of genius.

McIlroy's march to US Open victory at Congressional last June was serene by comparison with yesterday's tooth-and-nail battle, as the 22-year-old came from three shots off the pace to beat Frenchman Gregory Havret by two.

Both of them posted sublime five-under-par 65s in the final round, Havret stoking up the crowd up once again by sinking a monster par-saving putt moments after his playing companion's stunning effort out of the sand.

Godsend

McIlroy's win is a godsend for the European Tour as the €341,724 first-place cheque brought him within reach of Order of Merit leader Luke Donald and revived the Race to Dubai as a contest entering this week's Dubai World Championship.

Now second by €789,789, McIlroy needs to win next Sunday and Donald to finish outside the first eight if he's to deny the Englishman a place in history as the first golfer to top the money list on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year.

It's a lot to ask of the exhausted youngster as he enters the 11th and penultimate week of an end-of-season globe-trotting marathon, which has been described as "madness" by Conor Ridge, head of Horizon, McIlroy's new management team.

Yet if McIlroy can find the same inspiration as he did in Hong Kong yesterday, anything is possible. "I need another gutsy performance -- to dig deep and try and get another win," he said.

"Even if that happens, I'm not sure it'll be enough, but if I can produce the golf I produced this week when it mattered and really give it a good go, I might have a little bit of a chance."

After opening with a sparkling 64, McIlroy was a pale shadow of his usual self during the next two rounds as he fell back off the pace. Yet he skipped the dinner hosted by defending champion Ian Poulter on Saturday evening, going to bed at 9.0 instead. McIlroy slept like a rock until 8.30 the following morning and then got the pulse racing for the final round by going for a brisk 5km run on the treadmill in the hotel gym.

"I definitely wasn't in the mood to listen to him (Poulter)," McIlroy joked as he explained why he gave dinner a miss. "It worked well that. I curled up in bed and got a good 11 and a half hours' sleep. When I got up, I went into the gym, had a run, did a few exercises and felt great the whole day," he went on. "I'd felt lethargic when I woke up the previous couple of days, so I just needed something to get the blood flowing.

"It definitely gave me a little bit of adrenalin and kept me going through the day," added McIlroy, admitting news of the 62 shot by Lee Westwood in the Nedbank on Saturday, thereby placing his World No 2 ranking under threat, added a little spice to breakfast.

Motivation oozed out of every pore as McIlroy headed for the first tee. "I love Hong Kong and have wanted to win this tournament so badly since losing that play-off here in 2008," he explained.

"Another of my big goals going out was to keep myself in with a shout in Dubai," he added. "Yet, I also knew I really needed to win to stay above Lee in the world rankings -- it was nice to be able to do both."

McIlroy's third victory of 2011 was even more gutsy than his $2m title snatch at last month's Shanghai Masters, where he came from one behind with four to play to win in sudden death.

"You know, this is a great win. I really did struggle on Friday and Saturday and to come from behind and draw level after nine holes today; then to play very solid golf on the back nine and be able to close it out, it's something I probably haven't done before."

Needing an up-and-down from the sand at 18 to win, McIlroy insisted he was never worried, even though it appeared Hong Kong misfortune had struck again.

"It was actually a very positive thing that I hit it in the bunker because a couple of tournaments I've hit it into the bunker on the last and was able to win," he said. "When I won in Dubai, I hit it into the bunker at the last and in Shanghai, I hit it in the bunker in the play-off. So hitting it in the bunker on 18 has actually worked out well for me."

Sadly, Padraig Harrington's season fizzled out. Needing a top-seven finish to make the 60-man field in Dubai, he stumbled home in 51st on four-over yesterday (worth €9,022).

Good news, however, for Gareth Maybin, who made sure of his tour card for 2012 as a closing 69 brought him a share of 39th place and a cheque for €13,237. Meanwhile, Peter Lawrie's closing 71 copper-fastened his place in the Tour top 60. Tied 21st on two-under, the Dubliner earned €21,361.

Irish Independent

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