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ZHENGZHOU, China: Rory McIlroy beat Tiger Woods by a single shot yesterday in a big-money 18-hole showdown between the world’s top two before a frenzied Chinese audience whose enthusiasm literally knew no bounds.
Crowd etiquette crumbled as the golfers played out their “Duel at Jinsha Lake” for a prize pot reportedly worth $2m. Fans jumped the ropes, stole balls and clogged up the fairways to get a better vantage for photographs.
World number one McIlroy and 14 times major winner Woods had both flown in late Sunday for the one-day event after playing elsewhere -- McIlroy having come second at the BMW Masters in Shanghai, and Woods finishing fourth at the CIMB Classic in sweltering Malaysia.
But the players had any tiredness quickly extinguished by a surreal and lavish opening ceremony in Zhengzhou, in China’s inland east.
They were greeted by drum majorettes, fireworks and speeches from local dignitaries before clanging a ceremonial Chinese gong and having their handprints and autographs immortalised in clay.
McIlroy carded a five under par 67 on the 7,039-yard, par-72 layout at the Jinsha Lake Golf Club, and world number two Woods registered a 68.
It was remarkable scoring given the chaotic crowds constantly taking photos, letting their phones ring and refusing to stand still or be quiet even as the players were swinging.
Leisure helicopters were parked alongside putting greens, models in revealing evening gowns stood on tees, and enthusiastic spectators were tackled to the ground as they attempted to out-sprint security guards.
McIlroy grabbed an immediate birdie at the first hole, after struggling to keep a straight face in posing for photos as he tried to stare Woods down, boxing-style.
He was never headed, thus gaining a modicum of revenge for his seven-stroke defeat when the pair last met in Turkey two weeks ago.
“I got off to a good start,” the Northern Irishman said. “And just tried to keep my nose in front.”
Woods told reporters that it was a “great match”. The American added: “It was a lot of fun and a great exhibition. I think everyone enjoyed it.”
China is seen as the next frontier for golf and the fans clearly love it, though are mostly oblivious to norms of behaviour, as shown when they broke through the ropes and invaded the driving range as McIlroy and Woods warmed up.
Soon after there were comical scenes as spectators sprinted on and purloined all the expensive golf balls as the players attempted to leave.
The melee continued as the players stood on the first tee, with stewards and security trying and failing to stop the boisterous crowds bursting through the ropes.
“This is certainly not like most Mondays,” Woods said afterwards, smiling. “It’s been a different one, hasn’t it? I wouldn’t say it was crazy out there. The word I would use is ‘enthusiastic’,” McIlroy said. “It’s good to see so many people out there. So many people that follow golf and want to watch us play. I hope that continues.”
The sheer decadence of the occasion, coinciding with the launch of multi-million-dollar “Golf Villas” to be built around the golf course, was in vivid contrast to the stark industrial conurbation of Zhengzhou just a few kilometres down the road.
It is home to around 10 million people, capital of Henan province and one of the eight ancient capitals of China. But the line-up of luxury cars parked around the clubhouse -- including Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris, Aston Martins was pure Monaco.
A luxury yacht even sailed serenely across a lake in front of Woods as he played an approach shot. Away from the hoopla of the made-in-China event, Ernie Els said the McIlroy-Woods rivalry was shaping up into a fascinating duel.
“Tiger’s got all the experience in the world and Rory’s got all the power in the world right now, he’s got all the momentum,” the four-time major champion said.
“They’re really stirring the pot between the two of them and I think it’s good for golf,” Els said. AFP