In the first head-to-head exhibition between the two biggest names in golf, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, McIlroy managed to shoot a 5-under 67 to defeat Woods by one stroke in an 18-hole match on Monday in Zhengzhou, China.
The match labeled as “Duel at Jinsha Lake,” McIlroy jumped out to an early lead with two birdies on the first three holes, which proved to be clutch down the stretch to hold off Woods, who finished with a 68.
Despite McIlroy taking an early lead, Woods made the competition interesting for the fans in China coming down the front nine after falling two strokes behind. The 14-time major winner hit a flawless chip shot from the fairway on the par-3 12th hole that hit the pin and dropped in for birdie, drawing him within one stroke of the current No. 1 player in the world.
But on the next hole Woods had to settle for a bogey after missing a long put, while McIlroy nailed a 7-footer for par.
Woods would go on to birdie on the 14th hole to pull within one, but missed his chance to even the score on the 18th when he landed his approach shot in the bunker. Woods finished with the duel with six birdies and two bogeys.
For both player this was a different experience.
“This is certainly not like most Mondays,” Woods said. “To have this many people come out and watch us play golf in an exhibition was something special. This doesn’t happen.”
McIlroy and Woods had to make the long travel to Zhengzhou after competing elsewhere on Sunday. McIlroy traveled from Shanghai, where he competed in the European Tour’s BMW Masters and finished second behind Peter Hanson. Woods traveled from Malaysia after finishing fourth in the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic.
The win for McIlroy was a nice consolation prize after being defeated on Sunday.
“It’s been a nice distraction to not dwell on what happened yesterday,” he said. ”I let a great chance to win a golf tournament slip through my fingers. Coming to do something like this today has definitely made it a little easier to deal with.”
Woods even hinted at the idea of having matches with McIlroy more often to create a rivalry at the game such as the ones between Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant that have made the NBA more exciting in recent years.
“If you look at the history of the game, it’s not like other sports where the guys play against each other all the time. Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnold (Palmer) didn’t go at it that often,” Woods said. “But you know what, if we can do this for the next 10, 15 years, then certainly we can have that type of rivalry.”
The rivalry is what 14-year-old Ji Tianxin, who is student and golfer on occasion, came to witness, as she watched her favorite player McIlroy beat Woods.
“I don’t usually get this chance to watch the best players,” she said, watching the players putt on the fourth hole. “I think the two are both stars, so I really wanted to see them.”
Woods does not see this being his last match against McIlroy or any other competitor because matches like these intensify and promote the game of golf.
“I think having matches like this to promote the game of golf is what it’s all about,” Woods said. “We’re trying to promote the game of golf in this region, and it’s come a long way since my first time here 11 years ago.”