HAIKOU, China - Rory McIlroy won for the first time this year — even if it was an 18-hole exhibition against Tiger Woods.
McIlroy made four birdies and an eagle over the last seven holes at Mission Hills for a 6-under 67, giving him a one-shot win over Woods. It was the second straight year McIlroy has defeated Woods at the medal match in China.
"I would like to play all my tournaments in China where I can beat Tiger," McIlroy said.
Even an unofficial win has to count for something. McIlroy beat him last year at Jinsha Lake under far different circumstances. McIlroy was a major champion, No. 1 in the world and on his way to sweeping all the important awards. He signed a lucrative deal with Nike a short time later, and this season has been a struggle. McIlroy has had only one reasonable chance to win a tournament, and he didn't even qualify for the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour.
He is using a new driver and a softer golf ball, even prompting Woods to say to him after one chip, "How did you do that?"
The banter was free and easy, mostly about equipment. Woods was trying to recover from a virus he picked up from his daughter, and spent most of the afternoon asking his caddie for cough drops.
The golf was spectacular over the final hour on the Blackstone Course, however.
Woods had a one-shot lead and hit a marvelous approach to 10 feet on the par-5 12th. McIlroy followed with a long iron into 5 feet, and both made eagle. They both made birdie on the 13th, and McIlroy caught him with a 6-foot birdie on the 14th.
They birdied the 16th to reach 5-under, and the match turned on the next hole. Woods came up short on his approach to the 17th, and after nearly flying his pitch into the cup, he missed a 5-foot par putt. Woods had a 20-foot eagle putt on the 18th for the tie. He missed, and McIlroy knocked in his 3-foot birdie.
Woods could hardly raise his voice after the round.
"I don't sound all that well now, but it was nice that it was warm out there today," Woods said. "That certainly helped because I think my fever broke and I can start feeling a bit better. But I tell you what, when you have kids, they bring home some strong bugs, and this one has definitely been kicking my butt for the last couple of days."
McIlroy was headed back to Shanghai for the HSBC Champions. Woods is skipping the World Golf Championship, and will play next week in the Turkish Open.
"I've seen a lot of promising signs over the past few weeks in practice and also in competitive play," McIlroy said. "I still have four tournaments left until the end of the season and I would love to finish 2013 strongly and get a little bit of momentum going into next season. But I think as I showed out there, I'm hitting the ball well.
"If I can just get the putter going a little bit more, then in these last four tournaments I can hope to contend and maybe pick up a win or two."
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