Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy duel in the smog at Zhengzhou golf course
Showdown between world's two best players an opportunity to bring bling to the masses
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods staged a mock staredown like two heavyweight boxers on the first tee, but the multimillion-dollar bout turned into a surreal, chaotic pantomime yesterday.
Used as promotional tools - and expensive ones at that - the top two players in the world went head-to-head in the Duel at Jinsha Lake in Zhengzhou, a golfing desert. There was nothing at stake apart from bragging rights - and McIlroy won that superficial victory with a five-under 67 to Woods' 68.
Stealing the show was an ostentatious display of cars - from Maseratis, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys to Aston Martins - helicopters and advertisements for luxury homes. A phalanx of Henan provincial officials basked in their moment in the sun - or smog - and even a Russian model used the 12th tee to parade her evening gown and designer jewellery - which may have inspired Woods to birdie the hole.
Both players looked uncomfortable, despite repeating they "had a lot of fun out there" - their moods darkened by losses in Shanghai and Malaysia at the weekend - but then, money talks.
McIlroy, 23, is the No1 player in the world but Woods, 36, is still No1 in China. His "appearance fee" was much larger than the Northern Irishman's and at least US$2 million of the US$5.4 million budget for staging the duel went to the game's two most marketable players.
McIlroy and Woods are used to unruly crowds in China, but even yesterday's scenes were off the scale as hysterical fans broke through security, invaded the driving range and helped themselves to balls. They then took to the fairways, ignoring the most basic etiquette of the game. Eventually, security got them under control.
McIlroy called them "enthusiastic", but he is a lot more tolerant of the masses than many of his peers. He called the exhibition event a "nice distraction" after losing the BMW Masters at Shanghai on Sunday by one shot to Sweden's Peter Hanson.
"I let a great chance slip through my fingers and I was very disappointed," he said. "This is a nice distraction. Now I want to finish the season off strong in the few tournaments I have left," he said. That includes trying to defend his UBS Hong Kong Open title at Fanling next month.
Woods said he hoped the duel would spark a rivalry with McIlroy that would last "10 to 15 years", and he would be chasing wins and consistency next year to get the No1 ranking back.
Woods first came to China in 2001 and again expressed his amazement at the growth and development of the game. "It has come a long way since I was first here 11 years ago. Junior golf is off the charts," he said.
And if Woods needed any reminder the years are sliding by in his quest to beat Jack Nicklaus' major record of 18 wins, McIlroy recalled the day when he first watched Woods play. "This is going to make you feel old, Tiger," he said. "I was six."