Shenzhen: Rory McIlroy called his exhibition match against Tiger Woods here in China on Monday “a bit of fun”.
As the pair earned a reported $3 million (Dh11.01 million) between them for roughly 3hr 15min work, perhaps he was underselling the extent of the pleasure. Certainly this was the highest-paid head-to-head in the history of the game.
Billed “The Duel at Jinsha Lake” the 18-hole medal matchplay contest on the banks of the Yellow River featured McIlroy, the world No 1, shooting a bogeyless five-under 67 to beat Woods, the world No 2, by a shot. McIlroy claimed it gave him “bragging rights”, although Woods could point to his cheque and inquire who remains the biggest draw in the game. Woods was reported to have received $2 million for his exertions in the northern city of Zhengzhou, while McIlroy’s fee was $1 million. The reaction of the huge crowd bordered on frenzy. They were treated to a line of honour from the Chinese military, as well as marching bands, shooting flames, fireworks and an explosion of golden tinsel.
The pair were wired up to microphones during the made-for-TV event and the conversation was as brisk as their play. The subjects ranged from the Premier League to ball flight and spin ratios between these friends and rivals.
Woods won a showdown against McIlroy in Turkey earlier this month and they have been partnered together in four of the last five strokeplay events in which they have both played. The smile on McIlroy’s face when he picked up the appropriately oversized trophy showed it meant something, regardless of his subsequent comments.
“I treat these exhibition matches as a bit of fun and it’s good to get bragging rights,” said McIlroy, who finished second to Peter Hanson at the BMW Masters in Shanghai on Sunday. “It was close the whole day and was pretty exciting for the fans. It would be great to compete more with Tiger like this — maybe down the home stretch in the majors.”
Woods said: “This is certainly not like most Mondays. To have this many people come out is pretty special — we’re ranked one and two so this can really promote the game in China.”
Neither is appearing in this week’s WGC HSBC Champions event here at Mission Hills. McIlroy flew to Bulgaria to watch girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play in the WTA’s season-ender, while Woods travelled to Singapore for “corporate stuff”.