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McIlroy Surges to Lead in China with 65


Rory McIlroy fired a 7-under 65 to take a two-stroke lead through 18 holes of the WGC-HSBC Champions. The $8.5 million event began Thursday at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.

The 24-year-old Northern Irishman, who edged Tiger Woods in an exhibition match on Monday at Mission Hills in China, recorded eight birdies and a lone bogey to go up by two over Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Welshman Jamie Donaldson.

"It felt good to be out there and be in control of my golf ball. It's a great start, but it's only 18 holes," said McIlroy, who hasn't won a tournament in 2013.

"It's only one round of golf, but it's definitely the way I wanted, and needed, to start this week, keeping in mind that I obviously want to play myself into Dubai and try to pick up my first win of the season, as well. It's one of the best rounds I've played this season.

"I shot 64 at Boston, so that was a good round of golf. But this is probably better just because it was a little trickier conditions," added the Ulsterman, who won five times in 2012 to finish atop the money lists on both the PGA and European tours and rose to No. 1 in the world.

"There was a bit of breeze and you've got to play good golf to shoot 7-under around this place." (See below for McIlroy's full post-round interview.)

"Just played pretty solid and just tried to stay really patient," said Donaldson of his round. "You know, there's so many difficult holes out there; if you miss fairways in the wrong hole, it makes it very difficult to get anywhere near the green. Just a case of trying to keep it in play and take it from there."

Sharing fourth after posting 68s are two Americans - Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson, and Brits Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood. Seven players carded 69s, including Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell.

After finishing tied for 19th at 5-under 283 - nine strokes behind winner Ryan Moore - in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, Phil Mickelson held a share of the lead through 16 holes.

Starting on the 10th hole, the 43-year-old, who won tournament in 2007 and '09, then quadruple-bogeyed the par-5 eighth (his 17th hole) to finish with a 71.

After opening with six birdies, Mickelson twice found water on the eighth, the second time after his ball landed on the green and spun back more than 30 yards into a greenside lake. He finished the round with a bogey.

Woods' decision to not play in Shanghai after being in China was met with some consternation by Giles Morgan, the global head of sponsorship at HSBC bank, one of golf's leading sponsors. No. 1-ranked Woods received a reported $2 million appearance fee for his one-day outing with McIlroy. (Also skipping the event is world No. 2 Adam Scott.)

"For a meaningless game in China to take place only a few days before is disappointing. This tournament has to be bigger than the individual," Morgan said of Woods, who missed the tournament for the second straight year.

"Ultimately, Tiger is a freelance agent, so it is his decision to do as he likes. I just feel that this tournament has an important role to take golf into an entirely different part of the world," added Morgan. "Sponsors of our size deserve a modicum of respect for their investment."

For complete scoring of the WGC-HSBC Champions, visit http://www.worldgolfchampionships.com/hsbc-champions/leaderboard.html.

After signing for his 65, McIlroy met with reporters for the following Q&A.

MODERATOR: Rory, thanks for joining us again. In here yesterday, you said this is a course that was one of your favorites on the Tour this year, and certainly played like that today. Give us your assessment of a 65 today.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I came here yesterday and talked about how I like this golf course and how I felt like it set up well for me. It was good, it felt good to be out there and be in control of my golf ball. Gave myself a lot of looks for birdies. So, yeah, it's a great start. It's only 18 holes. It's only one round of golf but it's definitely the way I wanted and needed to start this week, keeping in mind that I obviously want to play myself into Dubai and try to pick up my first win of the season, as well.

MODERATOR: You've put in a lot of hard work on the short game and putting, give us your assessment of how that went today and give us a few highlights, if you could.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I felt like week I wasn't reading the greens very well and my pace was off, as well. You have that combination, you're not going to hole any putts. So just having worked a little bit on green reading on Tuesday and hit a lot of long putts on the putting green just to try to get the pace of these greens. You know, it felt pretty good out there. I let a couple of putts get away from me, a couple of the downhill ones, but I was able to hole ones coming back, which was good. Tried not to 3 putt yesterday and I didn't have any 3 putts today, which was a positive, which was a good sign.

So yeah, I mean, put a new lob wedge in the bag, as well, on Tuesday, just to get a little bit more spin around the greens, and it's seemed to work. We started on 10, so I hit a lob wedge there from 85 yards to a foot. 12 was a good birdie. I got a little unlucky on 11. Plugged it in the face of the bunker off the tee, and actually hit a great third shot about 160 yards and didn't quite make the putt. Good birdie on 12, held a nice I hit 5 iron in from 225 or whatever it was and held a nice putt from 20 feet to get that shot straight back. 14, took advantage of my length there. I hit 3 iron into the green, two putted from about 40 feet.

Again, 16, I hit 3 wood just over the back edge of the green and was able to get that up and down. 18, hit a drive and 3 iron just short left of the green and was able to get that up and down. First hole, it was probably my first loose shot of the day. Hit a drive right but sort of got away with it. Had a decent lie in the rough and hit a 9 iron from 160 yards to 12 feet I guess. Second hole, again, par 5, was able to get just short of the green in two with a 3 iron and got that up and down. Held a nice 6 footer there. Then the 8th hole, again, it was a three shot par 5 today. Got it up and down from 120 yards. Hit a nice wedge in there to about six feet. Wedge play today was good and I was able to make some birdies.

Q. Ball striking wise, how many marks would you give the round out of 10, what was the best shot you've played and was it the best round you've played for a while?

RORY McILROY: Ball striking wise, it was good. As I said, I hit a couple of loose shots coming in, a couple of drives to the right. But it was good. I'd probably give it 7 out of 10. Yeah, best shot of the day was probably the 3 wood I hit just over the back of 16th green was a good one. The second shot on 1 out of the rough was good, as well. And then the wedge shot on the 8th hole was nice. Yeah, with the irons, pretty much I had the ball under control all day. As I said, I hit a couple loose drives, but yeah, it's one of the best rounds I've played. I shot 64 at Boston, so that was a good round of golf. But this is probably better just because it was a little trickier conditions. There was a bit of breeze and you've got to play good golf to shoot 7 under around this place.

Q. I know you're joking about picking up your first win of the year on Monday, but still, the way you played the back nine there, does that help at all in terms of a little upward swing?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it does. You know, it's obviously different playing in an environment like that and coming out here trying to win this golf tournament, even though I did hold off Tiger Woods down the stretch (laughter). It comes from - Korea, the start of this little stretch, I drove the ball great in Korea. Short game wasn't great. You know, I'd say probably the majority of this field - if I had driven the ball like in Korea, they could have won, easy. I obviously just didn't play well enough, approach shots in there. And then last week, I saw some good signs, as well, at BMW. I just didn't hole enough putts. And then it's just learning from each week and just trying to put the pieces together. You know, a little bit of confidence from Monday, of course, but I think it was these two previous weeks just getting back into competitive play and learning what I needed to do to improve and sort of work on those things coming into this week.

Q. How much would you put to having a nice four week, clean break from golf getting ready for this final run, and how much do you put to the ball/driver combination?

RORY McILROY: It's definitely a combination of both. Having four weeks off, I spent most of that time back home in Northern Ireland and Ireland and time with Michael Bannon and getting back to doing what we used to do definitely helped. And then getting this new ball and new driver, the driver, I'm very confident with the driver and the ball has made just a little bit of difference around the greens. It's a little softer and I can putt a little bit more spin on it, and obviously that helps with some of the more delicate shots.

Q. You clearly set yourself extremely high standards. I know it's early stages here but would you say you've become maybe quite restless with the way the season's been?

RORY McILROY: I wouldn't say restless. I've tried to stay patient the entire season, and I know that if I believe that I'm working on the right things and I am working on the right things, then things will start to fall into place sooner or later. It's obviously frustrating when you've had a couple of seasons previous where you have had success, and not being able to emulate that there's times where you definitely get frustrated. I wouldn't say that I was restless in terms of trying to get a win this season, because I think that the best way to approach it is to stay patient and not to force the issue too much. And that's what I've sort of tried to do.

You know, the way I look at it, if I have a 25 year career, you know, nine months of a 25 year career isn't actually that long. It's not even a whole - if you look at in the time you play a 18 hole golf course, it's really a half a hole that you're struggling on. I wouldn't say restless, but obviously there's a point in time where you're thinking to yourself, right, come on, let's get this back on track. But I've tried to stay as patient as possible.

Q. The other night you said regarding Tiger and Brandel champ ply that Chamblee should be dealt with in the right way. What do you mean by that and what do you think is the right way?

RORY McILROY: I'll let the Golf Channel executives think what the right way is. That's not up to me. But I just think that he was out of line and you know, something should be done about it.

Q. Do you have an issue with the Golf Channel yourself or do you feel like it's between Tiger and them?

RORY McILROY: No, nothing - definitely not. There's nothing to do with the Golf Channel. That's who Brandel is employed by, and they are the ones that can deal with it.

Q. I think perhaps you must be tired, so could you share with us what's your favorite sport off your competition today, such as ping pong or other type of activity, could you share with us? Thanks?

RORY McILROY: What I like to play or what I like to follow?

Q. Ping pong? Badminton? How did you take pressure off the game of golf outside of golf?

RORY McILROY: Oh, okay. I played a couple of games of football, soccer, when I was back home in Ireland the last few weeks. But apart from that, not really much. I mean, I'll go to the gym after this, so that takes my mind off it for a couple of hours or an hour or whatever it is, depending how energetic I'm feeling. But yeah, most days when I'm at tournaments, I'll go to the gym and that sort of takes my mind away from the golf.

MODERATOR: Rory, thanks for joining us and well done today.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.