Focused McIlroy produces another cracker
Northern Irish ace refuses to be distracted by fireworks as he closes in on Masters lead
As China's rapid pace of economic growth exploded around him, world No 1 Rory McIlroy produced his own fireworks to take his familiar place high up on the leaderboard at the BMW Masters yesterday.
A day after being bombarded by polluting factories and developing a headache during his opening round, McIlroy and his fellow European Tour stars had to deal with random music, fireworks and piledriving from villages and developments bordering the Lake Malaren Golf Club.
The 23-year-old Northern Irishman put the distractions aside to shoot a seven-under 65 and put the pressure on Swede Peter Hanson, who raced to a two-shot lead at 14 under after adding a 64 to his opening 66.
The pair have already put daylight between them and the rest of the elite 78-man field, headed by fellow Swede Robert Karlsson at nine under. Overnight leader Jamie Donaldson (Wales) went backwards after starting the day four shots clear after his opening-day 10-under 62. He is at eight under with Justin Rose (England), Alexander Noren (Sweden) and Shane Lowry (Ireland).
Having won at Lake Malaren last year when it was an invitational event and carried off a US$1.5 million first prize, McIlroy mostly knows what to expect in China, especially mobile phones bursting into life, but the fireworks startled him.
"I thought they were gunshots going off there," he said. "You are always going to have distractions, whether it's people with their cameras or movement in the crowd or fireworks or music from I don't know where.
"Once you're over your shot, you're sort of in your own little bubble, your zone, and you don't really notice."
Few tournaments go by now without McIlroy launching an assault on the leaderboard and Hanson knows he is in for a fight.
"The more you're in this position, the more comfortable you become," McIlroy said. "I like the fact that most weeks when I tee it up, I can get myself into contention. This is just another one of those weeks, and obviously I'll try to continue that for as long as I can. I'm in a great position going into the weekend."
Hanson's confidence is boosted by his performances in the majors and World Golf Championship events this year, and being part of the Ryder Cup, despite being frustrated by his limited playing opportunities.
The 35-year-old Swede lost both his matches at the Medinah Golf Club last month and voiced his disappointment at captain Jose Maria Olazabal keeping him caged. Hanson said yesterday his quip, "I won't be sending Ollie any Christmas cards", was tongue in cheek.
"There were no hard feelings," he said. "There is nothing written or that will be written that will ever hurt any of us. We are such a strong team and coming off such a dramatic win, the bond is very, very strong."
Hanson, who won an emotional KLM Open in the Netherlands in September as his one-year-old son fought a respiratory virus, said he was a "little bit surprised" he and McIlroy had opened such a gap.
"I know it's going to be tough coming up against the world number one on a golf course he obviously loves, having won here last year," said Hanson, ranked 25th in the world. "I saw where he was on the par five, 13th. He was probably 30 to 40 yards ahead of anyone else. That's going to be a big advantage."