China could save Rory’s season

Today marks the start of a big couple of weeks for Rory McIlroy in China. His second-place finish in last week’s Korea’s Open, despite an awful third round, would suggest he’s back to something approaching his best, but as the papers never fail to remind him, he remains without a win this year – and after five wins (including a major) in 2012, that’s quite a comedown. Here’s his upcoming schedule:

Rory McIlroy in China – pretty self-explanatory.

Oct 21: Nike promotional event, Lake Malaren Golf Club, Shanghai

Oct 24-27: BMW Masters, Lake Malaren Golf Club, Shanghai (also featuring: Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell etc)

Oct 28: The Match at Mission Hills, Haikou, Hainan (also featuring: Tiger Woods)

Oct 29-30: Back to Shanghai, more practice rounds, tweeting etc

Oct 31-Nov 3: WGC-HSBC Champions, Sheshan International Golf Club, Shanghai (also featuring Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Donald, Stenson, Poulter, Westwood etc) 

Guan played a practice round with Woods ahead of this year’s Masters.

Guan Tianlang – he of teenage Masters fame – will be joining McIlroy and Woods in a skills competition ahead of the 18-hole duel in Hainan. The three of them will take aim at targets placed at 50, 100 and 125 yards away, and you have to think Guan has a reasonable chance of winning, given the controlled environment. Then it’s onto the main event, for which Rory and Tiger will be mic’ed up for TV. Woods doesn’t appear to be playing any other events in Asia so it seems he’ll be jetting in just for this, but win or lose, he’ll still pocket a seven-figure sum.

Rory beat Tiger in last year’s inaugural China duel.

Meanwhile, Rory badly needs the win, even if it is a meaningless exhibition. Here’s an extract from this week’s Sports Talk column:

Ernie Els once famously ­described the end of year trip to Asia as “wheelbarrow” time, a crude way to describe picking up mountains of cash just for showing up. Wheelbarrow or not, the two tournaments in Shanghai have strong fields and a win would do wonders for McIlroy’s confidence, which appeared to go walkabout ­shortly after he changed clubs a year ago.

More worryingly, though, McIlroy will spend all of Monday at a Nike promotional event – hardly the ideal tournament preparation and perhaps a sign of where his priorities now lie. If he can win either tournament in Shanghai, or even simply get the better of Woods for a day, he will have something to build on. But if not, the critics will be sharpening their knives once again.

And for those keeping track, it seems the Rory McIlroy – Caroline Wozniacki love affair is still on.

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