Rory McIlroy has a two-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the unofficial Shanghai Masters at Lake Malaren where he has a chance to pocket the biggest cheque of his short career in his first week under new management. However, the Chinese sponsor hold off on making out the $2m cheque to McIlroy just yet, given that his strike rate from Friday leader to Sunday champion is just 25%.
Winning in China would still represent a fourth professional victory for the 22-year old and a boost of confidence for a player that has won just twice in the eight times he has led or co-led after two rounds.
Those wins were significant: his maiden triumph in the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates and this year’s recordbreaking, eight-stroke demolition of the field in the US Open at Congressional. The pick of the other six must be this year’s Masters, where he closed with an 80 and finished 15th.
Following the heroics of his opening 64, McIlroy shot a turbulent 69 in blustery weather. He reeled off four birdies in an brilliant back nine of 32. But that was needed to undo the damage of an outward 37 where he birdied the par-five third and seventh but followed bogeyed the par-three fourth with a double bogey six at the ninth.
“The birdie on the 18th was a really good finish,” said McIlroy, who left Chubby Chandler’s ISM stable for Irish company Horizon Sports Management just a week ago. “This was the way to come back from the bad tee shot at the ninth.”
McIlroy leads by two shos on 11 under par from Noh Seung Yul of Korea, who shot up the leaderboard thanks to an impressive 63 (32-31).
Louis Oosthuizen (66) and Anthony Kim (68) are tied for third place on eight under with Padraig Harrington’s 70 leaving him tied for fifth with Hunter Mahan (72).
Lee Westwood is six shots behind his former stablemate McIlroy on five under after a 70 but as The Daily Telegraph reports, the world No 2 defend the future of an event that’s been dubbed a Chinese “vanity project.”
Its winner’s cheque eclipses those on offer from each of the sport’s four majors. It has been criticised as a “vanity” exercise designed to attract elite names but Lee Westwood, the other headline draw alongside McIlroy, refuted the accusation.
“Somebody will sanction it,” said Westwood, who played in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa when the Sun City tournament became the first tournament to offer two million dollars to the champion.
“I’ve played for two million dollars before. I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m in a fortunate position, especially with the financial crisis. There will probably be a few butterflies on Sunday — but probably from the bank manager watching the TV.”