Irish guys are smiling in Hainan
World number two Rory McIlroy will make a flying visit to Japan tomorrow night for an earthquake/tsunami fundraiser, hoping he has some extra baggage - the World Cup - in tow.
But he might have to fight teammate Graeme McDowell, who is heading to South Africa and Sun City, if they win at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in Hainan.
The two northern Irishman, who represent Ireland by a quirk of the country's sporting history, moved menacingly into equal first place with overnight leaders Australia at 13 under par after yesterday's second-day foursomes (alternate shot).
McIlroy has just spent two weeks holidaying in the Maldives and Dubai with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the world's number one tennis player, and has quickly settled back into the groove for a hectic four weeks, which includes next week's UBS Hong Kong Open.
Tomorrow night he will dash to the airport for a flight to Yokohama to play in a charity event with Japanese heartthrob Ryo Ishikawa - and armed with a US$100,000 cheque for the earthquake/tsunami relief.
McIlroy, 22, will play in a nine-hole skins match with Isikawa that will raise US$10,000 a hole and a nine-hole pro-am that will generate tens of thousands more.
Isikawa, 19, already has pledged to donate his winnings this year to the relief work. His earnings stand at US$1.15 million on the Japan Tour alone.
McIlroy will then leave on Monday night for Hong Kong where he will attempt to win the open at Fanling for the first time after seconds in 2008 and 2009.
'I made a trip to [disaster-hit] Haiti before the US Open and will go to Japan on Monday. It puts it all into perspective and makes you realise how lucky we are,' McIlroy said of his jet-setting, million-dollar lifestyle.
McIlroy and McDowell are most fans' favourites to win the World Cup - and the US$2.4 million first prize - as play returns to the fourball (better ball) format today (Saturday), where teams will expect to shoot the lights out again on the lava-rock Blackstone course.
'It will be nice to get out there again and enjoy the fourballs and be aggressive and make a few more birdies,' McIlroy said after their four-under-par 68.
Australia, who started the day with a two-stroke advantage, surrendered sole lead at the last hole, but Richard Green and Brendan Jones were happy to still see their names at the top of the leaderboard.
'It's a stressful game,' Jones said of the foursome format. 'It's hard to get any sort of rhythm going in your swing because you might go four or five holes without hitting a driver or a few holes without hitting a putt. It's stop start.
'Richard could easily have got upset today with some of the shots I hit and some of the putts I missed, but we both know we are trying our best and trying not to miss putts or hit it in the wrong spot.
'It's a difficult game for everybody. Richard's a good guy and he doesn't kick a man when he's down,' Jones said, laughing. 'We are still pretty happy to shoot that score (70) and are still tied for the lead. It's still nice to be in that position.'
Scotland (Martin Laird and Stephen Gallacher) are breathing down the leaders' necks one shot behind, while one of the big movers was New Zealand (Gareth Paddison and Michael Hendry), who moved into a tie for fourth at 10 under with the United States (Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland) and Spain (Alvaro Quiros and Miguel Angel Jimenez).
Liang Wenchong and Zhang Xinjun hope their four-under 68, which took China to five shots off the leaders at eight under, will generate a lot more fan excitement today.
'I'm pleased with how we've played today,' Zhang said. 'I hope there will be more crowds tomorrow as that will definitely inspire and motivate me to play my best. I like to play in front of big crowds and hopefully they'll come to cheer us.'
Liang said: 'To be able to shoot 68 in the foursomes is an achievement for us. We handled ourselves well and the result showed. I'm confident we can make a charge as we are familiar with the conditions and our playing styles.'