Selfie shots with Woods and McIlroy are the winner in Mission Hills madness
Tigermania? Macca Madness? We need a word for the celeb-fuelled hysteria that gripped fans at Mission Hills Haikou on Monday as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy played a second exhibition in China - escaping unscathed from the smartphone-wielding masses.
McIlroy won by a stroke with a six-under-par 67, not that anyone was bothered. The important numbers for Woods and McIlroy were on the cheques: the reported appearance fee was at least US$1.5 million each. The day before, McIlroy earned about US$67,000 after tying for 27th at the BMW Masters in Shanghai.
For fans, the day's purpose was to fill WeChat and Weibo with photos of the stars, ideally one or both in the background of a peace-sign selfie. Every shot was hit to a sub-Brian Eno ambient symphony of bleeps and bloops and artificial shutter clicks, fans "watching" through screens rather than eyeballs.
At last year's "Duel at Jinsha Lake" in Zhengzhou, the crowd's behaviour bordered on farcical, with nouveau-riche excess displayed around the course. The rematch was far more restrained in the latter regard - albeit the trophy was a 400,000 yuan (HK$509,550) giant jade golf ball - and the galleries were just about contained by overstretched and underexperienced stewards.
Organisers said around 13,000 attended, which seemed a high estimate. "We have to control it," a member of the organising staff was heard to say on the second green, and a colleague admitted: "I just don't want to see anyone get hurt."
Head to toe in designer gear, the VIPs and tai-tais were ready to step in should Woods or McIlroy have pulled up lame; they naturally assumed the yellow ropes could not possibly apply to them.
Both players were far from their best, if anyone noticed. "What do you feel you're doing really well today?" asked an on-course interviewer of Tiger on the 13th. "Nothing," he replied. "That's making me feel great, I'm one behind," said Rory.
Tiger was snorting and hawking and spitting like the worst mainland stereotype, thanks to a bug his daughter gave him, while Rory was occasionally wayward off the tee and putted erratically, as he has all year.
McIlroy heads to Shanghai for the WGC Champions starting on Thursday; as a measure of his poor 2013 form, he is still not assured of a place in the season-ending Race To Dubai finale. Woods will skip Shanghai, but was to be in Macau later Tuesday for a guest appearance at the Venetian. He will play next week in the Turkish Open.
The live coverage beamed across China on CCTV made interesting viewing - or rather listening, with both players miked up. They exchanged gossip, jokes, swears, comments on their rivals and moans about the pollution in Shanghai and Beijing - "It's fine here though". They seemed genuinely to be enjoying themselves; US$1.5 million for a pressure-free round of golf has that effect.