Hands up if you can spot the apparent contradiction with these two recent headlines:
The HSBC Champions teed off in Shanghai on Thursday and, despite attracting 40 of the world’s top 50 golfers, the Chinese won’t be paying much attention. That’s because there’s no Tiger Woods and no Rory McIlroy.
Tiger has an excuse – he’s been injured and hasn’t played since August – but Rory? Officially, he’s preparing for a court case 4-6 months from now. Unofficially, he’s tired after a long season, China is a long way away, he’s still likely to win the big end of season climax without playing here, he won’t make as much money as last year, or perhaps a little of everything. Whatever the truth, it doesn’t reflect too well on McIlroy – and it hurts Chinese golf too. This week’s Sports Talk column is below: Continue reading Rory’s China snub does double damage
Bubba Watson’s second Masters title last weekend may have strengthened his challenge as a potential successor to Tiger Woods, but some compelling signs about the future direction of golf were seen at Augusta a few days earlier. Below is a real picture of the leaderboard at Augusta National, with the names Xu, Huang, Li and Cheng at the top, listed – correctly – as champions.
The long-awaited PGA Tour China Series – a collaboration between the PGA Tour and the China Golf Association – teed off on Thursday at the Mission Hills resort in Haikou on Hainan island, the first of 12 tournaments that will run throughout the year.
First some background, then some analysis…
[UPDATE: Fresh off his Hainan payday and his visit to the Venetian Macao, Tiger spent Friday at the Marina Bay Sands casino-hotel in Singapore, where he held a clinic for young golfers and dyslexic children. Again, call me cynical, but the kids + special needs combo is fooling no one: clearly it’s easier to bank a large, guaranteed sum for a couple of hours of work than fight it out over four rounds with the other pros, even if the $8.5 million on offer this week in Shanghai means there’s plenty to go around. These promotional appearances, by the way, have apparently been in the pipeline for “well over a year”, meaning they would have been on his calendar before any golf tournaments were added].
Tiger Woods flew into Hainan in his private jet on Sunday night, picked up a reported $2+ million for swearing his way around a golf course on Monday, and then made the short flight to Macau on Tuesday, where he visited the Venetian resort. Continue reading Tiger Woods looks east for earning opportunities [UPDATED]
It turns that hollow one-shot victory against a sick, rusty and disinterested Tiger Woods in Hainan may just have done enough to get Rory McIlroy’s season back on track. Paired with Jason Dufner and Luke Donald in the opening round of the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, McIlroy opened birdie-bogey. But six birdies in nine holes took him to -6, and another birdie on the 8th hole (his 17th) put him at -7, two shots ahead of last week’s winner Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and chopsticks maestro Jamie Donaldson. McIlroy rated it as his best round of the year.
Many of the world’s top golfers are in Shanghai right now for the HSBC Champions – an official event of both the European and PGA Tours – so the world’s golfing media are paying attention. And golfers like to tweet: Jason Dufner starting the whole #dufnering meme earlier this year, Ian Poulter likes to talk about his car collection, Rory McIlroy writes messages to his (possibly now ex-) girlfriend tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, Tiger Woods announced he was seeing Lindsay Vonn on social media and so on.
But China, as we know, has these rules about silly matters like Facebook and Twitter. It is also, as we know, not exactly hard to bypass those rules using a VPN. But apparently that is still news to many in the west, judging by this article from Golf Digest, titled “PGA Tour golfer D.A. Points and caddie Kip Henley are defying the Chinese government”.
Rory McIlroy needed the win – any win – more than he needed the money, and he got it….just. One shot ahead going down the 18th hole, McIlroy watched as Tiger Woods missed a chance to tie things up with an eagle, and then sank his own birdie putt to match Woods’s birdie, as McIlroy’s 67 edged a 68 from Woods.
Despite taking the first set 6-2, Li Na lost the final of the WTA Championships in Istanbul (the last before the end-of-season showpiece moves to Singapore next year), as world number one Serena Williams won the next two sets 6-3, 6-0. It was Serena’s 11th title of the year, and her 10th win in 11 games against Li Na, but after going into the game as a massive underdog, Li can be happy she at least forced a third set. Crucially, she now moves up to 3rd in the world rankings – a career high – by leapfrogging both Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska.