Rory McIlroy made a good start to his bid to finish the year inside the world’s top-five when he showed a welcome return to form with a final round fling in China.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari matched Lee Westwood’s closing 67 to win the WGC-HSBC Champions by a shot from the world No 1 on 19-under par. But McIlroy also finished brilliantly, equalling the low round of the day with a five under 67 of his own to snatch solo fifth place on eight-under, a shot behind third placed Luke Donald and Richie Ramsay.
The young Ulsterman was pleased to follow three successive 71s with a seven-birdie round that could have been spectacular as last year’s closing 63 had it not been for momentum-sapping bogeys at the ninth and 10th.
He was also happy that the work he has been doing to correct a bad habit in his swing is finally bearing fruit with big events remaining in Singapore, Dubai and LA.
“Played nicely,” said McIlroy, who followed birdies at the first three holes with two more at the seventh and eighth before dropping two shots. “It had sort of been coming. I had shown signs of it this week, but never got the momentum.
“But three birdies today, sort of got something going and 5-under was a nice way to start. Just a pity I couldn’t keep it going around the turn.
“But I finished off quite well. It would have been nice to birdie the last, but hit it in the water and had to get up-and-down for par. Yeah, 5-under is a nice way to end the week.
World No 9 McIlroy birdied the 14th and 16th to finish the day a shot better than Tiger Woods, who closed with a four under 68 that was only good enough for a seven-way tie for sixth place on seven under.
After racing to five under par through his first seven holes, McIlroy was on course to repeat the nine-under 63 he shot on the final day last year.
“Yeah, just not as low, obviously. Yeah, I think I got off to the exact same start as last year, three birdies in a row and I think I shot 6-under that front nine. It’s a golf course I really like and a golf course that suits me, suits my game and it’s tough. You’ve got to hit it well and you’ve just got to look at the two boys on top of the leaderboard. They are the best out there in terms of ball-striking. So it’s guys that hit it well.”
As for his game, McIlroy agreed that he would head to Singapore with a spring in his step after an indifferent performance on his last outing in Egypt.
He said: “I definitely feel as if I’m on the right track. It’s still not completely there. It’s not where I would like it to be. But it’s getting close. I mean, it’s 75, 80 percent. It’s just that little bit more that I need to do and work on.
“But the thing I’m really happy with this week is my short game; my putting, my chipping, everything, to keep myself in there is fantastic. Those 71s the first few days could have been 75s so I’m really happy with that.”
Explaining the technical work he is doing on his swing, he said: “I just got into a couple of bad habits. I was swinging my best around the time of The Open this year. French Open had a great swing, as well. At The Open was hitting it great and swinging it well. I’m just trying to get back to swinging the way I was then. Not really changing anything, but just trying to get it back to how it felt and how it looked in July.”
McIlroy later revealed that following a company day for one of his sponsors in Singapore today. he was heading back to Belfast to rest before his next outing in Hong Kong.
“I’m in Singapore for the day doing an outing for my sponsors Jumeirah,” he said on Twitter. “Heading home tonight. Can’t wait to get into my own bed!”
Padraig Harrington finished an erratic week with a double bogey seven at the 18th for a 73 that relegated him to tied 16th on five-under.
After his albatross two on the 14th in the third round, Harrington had just about every number on his card this week bar a one.
Graeme McDowell saved the best for last with a final round 69 for a one-under total. That left him a shot behind Race to Dubai leader Martin Kaymer, who shot 71 to extend his lead over the Ulsterman to €531,806.
Irish in the Race to Dubai standings *(events played)
1 Martin Kaymer (20) €3,207,229
2 Graeme McDowell (21) €2,675,423
13 Rory McIlroy (14) €1,375,399
18 Padraig Harrington (12) €1,108,967
28 Darren Clarke (25) €820,890
32 Damien McGrane (28) €736,583
35 Peter Lawrie (29) €711,805
38 Gareth Maybin (24) €709,640
62 Shane Lowry (29) €492,528
92 Michael Hoey (25) €291,035
121 Paul McGinley (21) €155,610
136 Simon Thornton (22) €116,954
195 Colm Moriarty (5) €43,770
236 Gary Murphy (26) €19,152