Rory McIlroy shoots opening-round 64 to share lead at the Hong Kong Open
McIlroy needs top-two finish to keep alive hopes of topping European Tour money list
Luke Donald could become first player to finish top of European and U.S. standings
Donald is this week playing at the lucrative Nedbank Challenge in South Africa
World number two Rory McIlroy carded an opening-round 64 at the Hong Kong Open Thursday as he continues his bid to overhaul Luke Donald at the top of the European Tour money list.
The U.S. Open champion’s six-under-par effort at the Hong Kong Golf Club secured him a three-way tie for the lead alongside Spain’s Alvaro Quiros and Englishman David Horsey.
McIlroy needs to place in the top two to be able to stop world No.1 Donald becoming the first player to finish top of both the European and U.S. PGA Tour money lists.
Third-placed McIlroy and Germany’s Martin Kaymer are more than €1 million ($1.35 million) behind Donald ahead of next week’s season-ending Dubai World Championship, where a total of $7.5 million is up for grabs.
“There’s still a long way to go in this tournament,” the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland told the European Tour’s official website.
“I’ve led a lot of tournaments from the first day and I’ve won a couple of them but I realize more than anyone else there’s a long way to go, and over 54 holes I’ll have to play very well to pick up the trophy.”
Englishman Donald and former No. 1 Kaymer, who is second in the Race To Dubai, have this week chosen to play at the $5 million Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.
The winner of the non-tour invitation event takes home $1.25 million and the last player in the 12-man field gets $250,000.
They both shot 70 in Thursday’s opening round in Sun City to be two shots behind leaders Lee Westwood of England and South Africa’s Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
McIlroy’s superb round, which included six birdies, helped him finish the day one shot clear of Spanish Ryder Cup winner Miguel Angel Jimenez, who was alone in fourth.
“I have felt this year that I’ve definitely let two or three tournaments slip away from me,” McIlroy said. “That’s something I’m trying to work on so that doesn’t happen.
“As long as I get myself in these positions and start winning more regularly, it becomes a habit and hopefully I’ll do it more often.”
Horsey, a two-time winner on the European Tour who is 42nd in the Race to Dubai, also carded six birdies.
“A very nice start, I wasn’t feeling great coming into the week but did some good work yesterday on the range and it’s a good start,” said the 26-year-old, who won this year’s Hassan Trophy in Morocco.
“I’ve been playing well for a while, to be honest. Since the Dunhill I’ve been hitting the ball quite nicely but the scores haven’t been coming in, so hopefully I can change that these last two tournaments of the year.”
World No. 50 Quiros, who is 20th in the Race to Dubai, was satisfied with his form in windy conditions in Fanling.
“I played well, I gave myself a lot of good chances but didn’t holes putts. I think it was a fair score today. The wind was changing direction very easily.
“You have to be lucky to shoot low in these windy conditions. This is not my course, you have to hit draw, so I don’t think it is my style.”
Australia’s Darren Beck and McIlroy’s compatriot Gareth Maybin were tied for fifth after rounds of 66.
Beck’s fellow Australian Marcus Fraser was alone in seventh on 67, ahead of an eight-way tie for eighth which included 2009 PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang and Sweden’s Peter Hanson.