Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell “hung tough” in the foursomes to help Ireland grab a share of the halfway lead with Australia at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in China.
The Northern Irish pair, who were two shots behind Australians Brendan Jones and Richard Green overnight, made two back nine bogeys but recovered with a birdie each time to fire a four under 68. (Scores)
The Australian pair bogeyed the 15th and 18th for a 70 to fall back into a share of the lead with Ireland on 13 under par, one clear of Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher and Martin Laird (69).
Ireland’s 68 matched the best score of the day and with the top 18 countries covered by just five shots, senior partner McDowell insists they must now go on the attack in Saturday’s fourballs if they are to have a chance of taking the title.
“Tomorrow is a big day,” McDowell said. “We are going to be in the last group. Fourball is a day to go low and the leaderboard doesn’t mean much until tomorrow evening.
“That’s when it’s going to be a little more predictable as to who is going to be contending on Sunday. We’ve got to go out there, despite being in the last group, and try and play aggressively.”
Ireland struggled early on before birdies at the fourth, sixth and seventh helped them keep in touch with the Australians. But it wasn’t easy.
While they three-putted the 11th and 13th for bogeys, they bounced back each time with birdies at the 12th and 14th and then picked up a shot at the 16th following a huge McIlroy drive.
A final hole bogey by the Australian pair allowed Ireland to sleep on a share of the lead and McIlroy was pleased with the result.
“I think both of us are very pleased about the score that we ended up shooting today,” said the world No 2. “I think anything in the 60s in the foursomes format is a very reasonable score out there.
“There’s still a lot of golf to be played this week, so it’ll be nice to get out there tomorrow again and enjoy the fourballs and be aggressive and make a few more birdies.”
McDowell added: “It was a good day, a difficult day. Alternate shot is a very difficult format and Rory and I struggled to get into our rhythm early on.
“We played the first four holes in one under par and couldn’t have been one shot better than that because Rory made some nice putts.
“We hung tough but then we found our game a little bit and all in all four under par is a pretty good return in foursomes we are nicely positions going into the weekend.
“We had two bogeys on the back nine and both of them were three putts from awkward enough positions and we bounced back with birdies on the next holes. We were very happy with our strategy today and Rory is probably putting the better of the two of us.
“He knocked in a few nice ones today and my iron play was pretty sharp again. All in all very happy. Tomorrow we can go out and be a little more aggressive in the fourball format.
“It is all about positioning ourselves for Sunday afternoon. we know we are good enough where we can be there or thereabouts. We are happy two great days in the books.”
McDowell struggled with his putting in Japan last week but he’s happy to see McIlroy stroking the ball nicely on the greens on Mission Hills’ Blackstone Course.
“Rory is such a great driver of the ball and it’s important to use that gun as much as we possibly can,” he said. “Typically I am the better putter of the two but that kind of hasn’t worked out this week. He is putting beautifully and my iron play has been sharper this week.”
Jones and Green were disappointed with their bogey at the 18th but still confident they can challenge for Australia’s first World Cup win since 1989, when Peter Fowler and Wayne Grady clinched theri fourth win at Las Brisas in Spain.
“The important thing for us is that we are still at the top, and everybody is chasing us and we are chasing Ireland now,”Jones said. W”e can’t win the tournament today, but we sure could have fallen back in the field.”
Green added: “A little bit of a shame to have finished with a bogey, but it’s a very difficult finish to this golf course and a very demanding hole, 18. Hopefully we can work that out for the weekend and not do that on Sunday.”
McDowell and McIlroy know that the event is still wide open with the likes of Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez and Alvaro Quiros just three behind in tie for fourth with New Zealand and the United States.
The Spaniards, who have yet to drop a shot, added a 69 to their opening 65 while England’s Justin Rose and Ian Poulter also shot three under to lie four adrift with Mexico and the Netherlands on nine under par.
Rumours abound that the World Cup could be scrapped because of the packed international calendar and lack of sponsorship.
However, the Daily Telegraph’s Oliver Brown reveals that the event looks set to run and run:
Dr Ken Chu, chairman and chief executive of the Mission Hills Group, told Telegraph Sport: “I promise you, the World Cup will carry on whether sponsors leave us or not.”
Although it is believed title sponsors Omega may withdraw their backing after this week, Dr Chu claimed he wanted to sustain the competition to honour the legacy of his father, David Chu, who died in August after inspiring the Mission Hills development and ushering in a golfing revolution in China. “Even his friends thought he was crazy,” he said. “But he had this idea like a fever. I want his work to live on.”