Perfect ending for magical McIlroy
Finally, Rory McIlroy can return as Hong Kong champion.
The youngest player to win at Fanling promised to return to 'one of my favourite tournaments' next year after sealing a superb two-shot victory at a sun-drenched UBS Hong Kong Open yesterday.
It was a popular win for the crowd favourite, with 15,000 people in attendance. And the first Northern Irishman to win in Hong Kong will have endeared himself even more to organisers after declaring he would do everything he could in his power to come back next year to defend his crown.
'I would love to come back to Hong Kong. This is one of my favourite tournaments of the year and I will do all I can to come back,' world number two McIlroy said after he displayed his genius to hole out for birdie from a bunker on the 18th green.
His return will depend on a number of parties - the new title sponsors, the government if they are still involved through the Mega Events Fund, and the Hong Kong Golf Association. This time, McIlroy was netted for a song, having signed a two-year deal worth US$300,000 in 2009. But with his stock rising since his US Open victory, he won't come as cheap next year as it is believed he commands around US$1 million in appearance fees now.
Finding the money will not be the headache for Swiss bankers UBS. Yesterday, it was celebrating the perfect ending to a seven-year relationship with the Hong Kong Open, by having the winner everyone wanted.
'The exciting finish is a perfect ending to our long-term association with the Hong Kong Open,' said Kathryn Shih, chief executive, Wealth Management, UBS Asia Pacific. 'We would like to thank all the players over the years for their support.'
Especially McIlroy, who at 22 beats the previous mark of youngest champion held by Frenchman Gregory Bourdy, who was 27 years and 204 days when he triumphed in 2009.
That year, and in 2008, McIlroy had to settle for second place, one an agonising loss in a play-off. But this time he finally completed a long overdue victory with a determined final-round five-under 65 for a 12-under 268 total and the US$458,330 first prize.
'I had to wait a few years for it to finally happen and to win this tournament is very special. I wanted to win so badly since that play-off in 2008,' said McIlroy, who first played at the 2007 Hong Kong Open.
'No matter how prestigious tournaments are, you always have your favourite and this is definitely one of my favourite tournaments. To win it is fantastic,' he said.
'I really had to fight for it. To be able to win tournaments when you are not playing your best is what the likes of Tiger [Woods] did week-in, week-out. That's something you have got to do if you want to be a great player.
'I feel as if I'm learning to do that. To come from behind, and to draw level after nine holes and then to play very good, solid golf on the back nine and be able to close it out is very satisfying. I know this is a great win, something I probably haven't done before,' McIlroy said.
Having struggled all week with exhaustion, McIlroy headed to the gym for an early-morning workout after a good night's sleep. He ran 5 kilometres on the treadmill. It worked wonders as he turned up at Fanling re-energised.
'I really got a good sweat up and I felt a lot better than I did the previous couple of days,' he said.
McIlroy, who shared the lead over the first two rounds, started the day three shots behind leader Spaniard Alvaro Quiros (10 under) and was soon quickly into stride, tying for the lead at the turn with two birdies.
The contenders included Frenchman Gregory Havret, defending champion Ian Poulter, Swede Peter Hanson, Thai Pariya Junhasavasdikul and Scot Richie Ramsay, but the revitalised McIlroy didn't falter and finished in grandstand style with the birdie from the bunker.
That shot killed off any hopes playing partner Havret had of forcing a play-off. The Frenchman trailed McIlroy by a stroke going into the last hole.
'I have won a couple of tournaments previously from being in the bunker at the last hole. I looked at it positively and I walked up drawing on those memories, telling myself I do well out of bunkers on the last hole,' McIlroy said.
Havret had to settle for second place, on 10-under 270, while Hanson was third one shot further behind. Ramsay, Poulter and Pariya finished joint fourth on 272, four shots behind McIlroy.
Havret, who also finished second behind McIlroy at the US Open, said an opening bogey proved costly.
'The only mistake is probably the first hole where I three-putted. Nothing of absolute beauty because I didn't win.
'I had a chance going into the last, one behind him, but I made a bad drive, and that was very hard to make par. Rory seems to like this hole quite a lot - yeah, his shot was absolutely amazing,' said Havret.