Hitting the limit
Rory McIlroy's long march across China over the past few weeks might still cost him his first UBS Hong Kong Open crown after the tired superstar reached the halfway stage hanging on to the lead.
The US Open champion, who revealed he had been on a saline drip for three days last month, looked a tad dispirited as he shot a one-under 69 to total seven-under 133 and share the lead with Spain's Alvaro Quiros.
McIlroy was hardly the same ebullient person seen on the opening day when he carded a magnificent 64 in strong swirling winds. He was a shadow of that confident alter ego as he admitted a hectic self-inflicted schedule was taking its toll.
'It is a bit of mental fatigue and a bit of physical fatigue. I don't feel as if I'm completely 100 per cent - and right at the end I had a couple of loose and tired swings,' said McIlroy.
Two bogeys in the last three holes summed up his frustration. From being nine-under, and clear in front, he had to settle for a share of the lead.
Normally he drains four-foot putts in his sleep, but yesterday, right at the end, one got away on the 18th hole and he dropped back into the Quiros' company. The Northern Irishman is well aware of the dangers of more slip-ups over the weekend.
'I will just have to try to limit them as much as possible. I've got to try to get through the weekend as best I can,' said McIlroy with almost an air of desperation.
It sounded as if he was running close to empty. He blamed himself for being in this position, having obliged sponsors and fans across China over the past few weeks with his courteous demeanour which makes him one of the most likeable professionals in the game.
'I don't think the season is too long, I might have made the season too long for myself,' he said. 'We are in a privileged position and we get to choose what tournaments we play in. It's not as if we are obligated to play tournaments.'
Indeed not. It is money which lures the top professionals to Asia, especially China. McIlroy is believed to have made close to US$5 million just in appearance fees in the past five weeks or more. But he was signed on for a song by the Hong Kong Open organisers who locked him in to a US$300,000 two-year contract last year, before he became US Open champion.
His schedule has seen him play at the Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters, an unsanctioned event restricted to only a field of 30 players. He won the event and pocketed the richest winner's purse in golf, US$2 million. Before that, he went on a seven-day, seven-city jaunt across China, jetting around from Shanghai to Macau at the behest of Shui On Land tycoon Vincent Lo.
'I'm not feeling quite myself. I just have to try to get plenty of rest in-between rounds and give it my all on the 18 holes that I do have to play every day. It's a matter of resting. I had two weeks off in the Maldives in-between the HSBC Champions [in Shanghai] and the World Cup [in Hainan] and I got sick. I was on a medical drip for three days.
'But this past 10 weeks or so has been a learning experience, knowing my capabilities and my limitations. I feel like I'm sort of coming to the end of that,' McIlroy said.
Scot Richie Ramsay and Thai Panuphol Pittayarat, are one shot behind on six-under 134, with two-time Hong Kong Open champion Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and Kiwi Danny Lee hot on their heels.
'I'm still tied for the lead, I'm in the same position I was last night, but I feel I could have definitely shot a few better. But you know, if that's the worst round of the week, it's not too bad,' added McIlroy as he trudged off. Most probably, straight to bed.