Life rosy for McIlroy after $2m bonanza
On the principle that great moments are better when shared, the smile across Rory McIlroy's face could scarcely have been broader yesterday.
For not only had the US Open champion become $2m (€1.4m) richer by winning the Shanghai Masters at Lake Malaren, but girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki had flown to China to help him toast his record bounty.
Wozniacki, perched in an executive box by the 18th green, watched as McIlroy wrapped up the fourth professional victory of his career with an impeccable sense of timing. After all, this lucrative tournament marked his first event since he swapped management stables.
But he did not prevail without fraying the nerves of his belle, the women's world No 1 in tennis, as he frittered away a three-shot lead before vanquishing Anthony Kim in a play-off.
For Chubby Chandler, the manager whom he so precipitately left, it was a galling outcome.
McIlroy's Shanghai money grab -- securing the largest cheque of his life -- served as a reminder of what it meant to be associated with the most dynamic young player in the game. Six thousand miles away in Dublin, at the headquarters of the Horizon company the 22-year-old has since joined, the cash registers were already ringing.
Granted, the final act was delivered in untidy fashion, as McIlroy finished off a 72 by missing an eight-foot putt for birdie and victory at the last.
However, this most remunerative of wins, sealed with a par at the first extra hole, acted both as affirmation of his stardust and as an ideal precursor to his appearance this week at the HSBC Champions, held on the nearby Sheshan International course.
"It's something that I feel like I can still get better at: winning and putting yourself in the position to win when you're not playing your best," said McIlroy, who ended on 18-under-par.
"Even if it's scrappy golf where you grind it out, you're going to win a lot more tournaments by doing that. I was very happy I was able to pull this one out."
Given that his season began amid the indignity of his Masters implosion, McIlroy is appearing increasingly unruffled under pressure.
Indeed, this signalled the first time in three attempts that he had come through a play-off to win.
The day did not begin auspiciously, when his approach at the first hit the pin and ricocheted back off the green, setting up the bogey that cut his advantage from three strokes to one.
Any sense that he might be about to relive his Augusta nightmare was purged, though, as he collected birdies at the seventh and 15th to move ahead once more.
Lee Westwood briefly had a chance to gatecrash the party after a hole-in-one at the 12th but faded with dropped shots on the last two holes.
McIlroy's miscue at the 18th turned out to be just a wobble. As he and Kim contested the hole for a second time, both found the greenside bunker, but the Holywood man proved the calmer by putting his escape to within three feet and then sinking the richest putt over which he has stood.
An asterisk alongside McIlroy's victory is that it came in an event unsanctioned by any major tour, and one bankrolled solely by a Chinese property magnate.
Play at Lake Malaren had been overshadowed throughout by accusations that it was simply a vanity project for a local businessman. But perhaps the last word on the subject was best left to the ever-forthright John Daly, who said: "So what? I hope this becomes a regular event, whether on the tour or not."
It was a sentiment with which McIlroy, revelling in his bumper payday, would surely concur. (© Daily Telegraph, London)