U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy shot an 8-under 64 on Thursday to take a one-stroke lead in the Shanghai Masters, the lucrative invitational tournament that isn’t sanctioned by any of the major tours.
The 22-year-old star from Northern Ireland had eight birdies -- five on the back nine - in his bogey-free round on Lake Malaren’s Jack Nicklaus-designed Masters course.
“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,” McIlroy said.
The 30 players are vying for the $2 million first prize, the richest in golf. All the top players are getting appearance money, and last place pays $25,000. Because the International Management Group-run event isn’t sanctioned by a major tour, it doesn’t have world-ranking points.
American Hunter Mahan was second. He had seven birdies, including three in a row on the back nine, then settled for a par in the 18th hole when his birdie try glanced off the lip of the cup.
“You have to go out there and try to make as many birdies as you can,” said Mahan, whose playoff loss to Bill Haas last month in the Tour Championship cost him nearly $10 million.
“A lot of great players are here, so you can’t take your foot off the pedal. You’ve got to be aggressive. The course is set up well enough so that it’s not too long -- (there are) good length holes. But it’s still challenging in a lot of areas, so you have to be cautious on a few shots.”
Mahan said the $2 million payout was only one of the reasons he decided to play in the tournament before competing next week in the WGC-HSBC Champions at nearby Sheshan International.
“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.”
England’s Paul Casey and Ian Poulter and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington opened with 67s, and American Anthony Kim was another stroke back along with China’s Li Chao.
John Daly was in the group at 69 along with Lee Westwood, Retief Goosen, Y.E. Yang and Robert Karlsson.
“With a small field like we have here, and I think I may get in trouble for saying this, but I’m kind of glad it’s not sanctioned by the European or PGA Tour,” Daly said. “It shows that China is doing something on their own. They’re saying, ‘Hey, we may not need the PGA Tour or European Tour, no disrespect.”’
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel had a 70, and PGA winner Keegan Bradley had a 72.