McIlroy keeps Westwood in sight

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 November, 2009, 12:00am

Rory McIlroy was perfectly positioned to keep an eye on Lee Westwood - his rival in The Race to Dubai - starting the first round in the group immediately after the Englishman.

So he knew exactly what was happening, and was pleased that, at the end of the day, they were both on equal terms, having each shot a 66.

'He is four-under as well, so it's level-pegging at the moment,' McIlroy said. 'But there are 54 holes left, so it doesn't really matter until Sunday.

'We are both playing pretty well to be in the positions we are in and I'm not surprised Lee is up there.'

Northern Ireland's McIlroy trails in second place behind Westwood - by a mere Euro52,321 (HK$608,000) - in the European Tour's money list and the UBS Hong Kong Open offers the only chance to grab pole position before the climax next week in Dubai.

To achieve that he believes he has to do better over the next few days.

'I'm not sure if three more 66s will be good enough to win this tournament, so I might need to do a little better over the next three days,' McIlroy said. 'I'm happy starting with a 66, but I let it get away from me a bit on my back nine.'

McIlroy missed a few greens, but had a couple of good up-and-downs, to stay clear of serious trouble as he carded five birdies and a bogey, which came in the par-three fifth hole. 'But I made a really good birdie on my last hole, which got me to four under and was a nice way to finish. It's a nice start, but there is still a lot of golf to play,' McIlroy added.

Westwood, 36, collected six birdies and two bogeys in a round that left him a satisfied man. He had good reason to be pleased, too, because unlike McIlroy, who is familiar with the par-70 Composite layout after playing here five times- in three Hong Kong Opens and two visits in his amateur days - Westwood is making his Fanling debut.

Asked for the highlights of his first round of 18 holes, Westwood said: 'All of them. It was good. The only green I missed was the last hole I played and that is a tough hole, the number nine. I wouldn't say I flushed it, but I had enough control to hit 17 out of the 18 greens. I'm still learning the course, but I'm happy to be right in contention.'

Despite his familiarity with Fanling, McIlroy said that it did not offer him a huge advantage, especially when it came to reading the greens.

'There is no exact science to it. You just have to look to see which way the grass is going and then guess how much the grass is going to affect the putt,' McIlroy said.

However, Westwood begged to differ. 'I had a lot of chances, but found the greens very puzzling.

'I think I am at a real disadvantage having only played the course once before [in the pro-am]. It is such an advantage if you have played a few tournaments here.'

Yet he added: 'I am delighted to start with 66. The only two bogeys I made were three putts and I had a load of chances.'

If the first day's tussle between the pair is any indication, fans are in for an engrossing battle when the action really heats up this weekend.