Sport Golf

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Rebranded McIlroy in pole position for biggest payday

Oliver Brown

The rebranded Rory McIlroy moved a step closer yesterday to toasting his change of management with the most lucrative cheque of his career.

Leading after the second round of the Shanghai Masters by two shots on 11-under despite an error-strewn 69, the 22-year-old kept fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington at bay and the €1.4m first prize in his sights.

Although McIlroy registered six birdies in gathering winds, the round was turbulent: he dropped a shot at the fourth before finding water at the ninth as an ambitious attempt to scramble a par culminated in a double-bogey.

"The birdie on the 18th was a really good finish," said the US Open champion, apparently rejuvenated a week since leaving ISM for Horizon. "This was the way to come back from the bad tee shot at the ninth."

Still, controversy continued to overshadow the Lake Malaren event, unsanctioned by any tour and funded exclusively by a property magnate.

Its winner's cheque eclipses those on offer from each of the sport's four Majors.

Refuted

It has been criticised as a "vanity" exercise designed to attract elite names, but Lee Westwood, the other headline draw alongside McIlroy, refuted the accusation.

"Somebody will sanction it," said Westwood, who played in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa when the Sun City tournament became the first event to offer $2m to the champion.

"I've played for $2m before. I've got nothing to lose. I'm in a fortunate position, especially with the financial crisis.

"There will probably be a few butterflies on Sunday -- but probably from the bank manager watching the TV."

Westwood has much ground to regain if he wishes to entertain that prospect, after more ragged putting left him in joint ninth on five-under par, alongside Paul Casey, Colin Montgomerie and Masters winner Charl Schwartzel.

"I haven't played very well for the first couple of days," Westwood acknowledged. "But I am still in with a chance and I have been in worse positions than this."

Harrington is joint fifth on seven-under after a 70. Korea's Noh Seung-yul's 63 took him up to second. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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