SHANGHAI – Rory McIlroy reeled off five birdies on the back nine to take a one-stroke lead over Hunter Mahan after Thursday’s opening round of the Shanghai Masters, a lucrative invitational tournament not sanctioned by any of the major tours.
McIlroy, the 22-year-old U.S. Open winner from Northern Ireland, had eight birdies in total and no bogeys at the just-completed, Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Lake Malaren Golf Club in the outskirts of Shanghai. He finished at 8-under 64.
'If I can play as solid for the next three days as I did today, I feel as if I’ll be very difficult to beat,” he said.
Mahan had seven birdies, including three in a row on the back nine, but he missed his final chance on the 18th hole when his putt just glanced off the lip of the cup. Meanwhile, the 29-year-old American is hoping to make up for a disappointing finish at the Tour Championships last month, where he lost in a sudden-death playoff to Bill Haas.
Even though the first-year tournament isn’t sanctioned by a major tour and is being held the same week as the PGA Tour’s Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia, it still managed to attract an elite, 30-player field by offering a total purse of $5 million and a winner’s check of $2 million – the richest first-place prize in golf.
All the top players are also getting appearance money, and last place pays $25,000.
The winners of each of the majors and the Tour Championships this year took home $1.44 million apiece, while the winner of the Asia Pacific Classic will be awarded $1.3 million.
There are 10 major winners in the field, including 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, who was six strokes back after shooting a 70 in the first round, Retief Goosen (69), Y.E. Yang (69), Geoff Ogilvy (73) and Jim Furyk (75).
Lee Westwood also finished with a 69. The world No. 2 didn’t look sharp for much of the day, but he nearly had an eagle on a long putt from the fringe of the green on the par-5 13th – the ball stopped less than an inch in front of the hole.
Westwood played alongside McIlroy. The two were stablemates at Chubby Chandler’s ISM agency before McIlroy split last week.
There are no ranking points at stake at the tournament and PGA Tour players did not need a competing-event release in order to take part. The Tour was not pleased about the event, which is being run by the International Management Group, particularly since 16 Tour players are in the field.
But the players themselves are excited about the new event.
'They’re building golf courses daily here. This is a place you want to market yourself,” Mahan said. “No question this is one of those events I think is going to grow through time and get bigger and bigger and I’m excited to be at the beginning part of it.”