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Golf: McIlroy wins WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai

Golf: McIlroy wins WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates with the trophy after winning the WGC-HSBC Champions golf tournament in Shanghai. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP)

SHANGHAI: World number two Rory McIlroy said his recent return to top form was motivated by the realisation that at 30 he faces a ticking career clock, after he won his fourth event of the year at the WGC-HSBC Champions on Sunday (Nov 3).

McIlroy was the class of the field throughout the tournament in Shanghai, which ended when he defeated defending champion Xander Schauffele in a sudden-death play-off.

It was the Northern Irishman's first win in east Asia's premier event and keeps him on course in a personal quest to retake the world's top golf ranking that he last held in 2015.

McIlroy went a rock-solid 67-67-67-68 for the tournament and said his resurgence was fuelled by the fact that "I don't have as much time left as I used to when I was 20."

"Even if I'm having a bad day, I'm trying over every single shot. My concentration is better and my mental capacity on the golf course is much better than it ever has been," he said.

"I think that's a big key to why I'm able to play consistently week-in, week-out."

He had a one-stroke lead stepping to the 18th tee of regulation play but nearly put his drive into the imposing lake that hugs the long par-5 hole at Sheshan International Golf Club.

He could only salvage a par, leaving him tied with Schauffele after the American carded a birdie.

But the Northern Irishman shrugged off the mistake to split the fairway in the play-off replay on 18 as Schauffele's tee shot missed left.

McIlroy went on to win the hole and the US$1.745 million winner's purse.

He is coming off a strong 2019 that saw him secure the FedEx Cup, win PGA Tour Player of the Year honours, and climb the world golf rankings.

McIlroy burst onto the stage a decade ago as a shaggy-haired youngster widely predicted to dominate golf for years but was overtaken by a succession of other young stars.

He said this week that next on his list was recapturing the world's top rank, currently held by American golfer Brooks Koepka.

As the sport buzzes with the return of Tiger Woods - who achieved a record-tying 82nd PGA Tour win this past week in Japan - McIlroy showed that he also remains a potent force.

He did not drop a shot over his final 38 regulation holes and finished at 19 under par.

"I'm excited for the future. I feel like this year compares to 2014, 2015, but I don't see any reason why I can't go ahead and have an even better year next year," he said.

The gutsiest performance of the week was put in by world number nine Schauffele.

The American won in a similar 18th-hole playoff last year against Tony Finau and was gunning to become the first back-to-back victor.

But he arrived in Shanghai battling a bad case of flu that had him nipping on a nasal inhaler on the course, and occasionally backing off shots to let out a hoarse cough.

Schauffele stayed on McIlroy's heels, however, and pounced on the Northern Irishman's bad final drive in regulation to catch him, posting a six-under-par 66 for the round.

But with McIlroy playing the way he is, Schauffele didn't like his chances in the playoff on the long par-5.

"He's (McIlroy) the best driver in our game. So if I was a betting man, I probably would have bet on him if we had to play the hole over and over again."

"When he's on, I'd say he's arguably the best player in the world."


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