Rory McIlroy is thrilled to be back at the UBS Hong Kong Open, scene of his incredible playoff duel with Lin Wen Tang 12 months ago.
With darkness falling and the packed galleries roaring them on, the duo traded amazing recovery shots before Lin won it with a birdie at the second extra hole.
“I have great memories of playing here last year,” McIlroy, 20, told a press conference at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling.
“I played well to get into the playoff and then the playoff itself was incredible. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had on a golf course – the atmosphere, the shots that were played. It was getting dark so there were flashes from cameras everywhere, it was amazing.”
The best finish in the tournament’s 50-year history saw Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, Chinese Taipei’s Lin and Francesco Molinari of Italy go toe-to-toe in a three-way playoff on Fanling’s daunting par-four 18th.
Lin looked to have blown his chances when he hooked his tee shot into woods but he staged an amazing escape, hitting his approach high over the trees to six feet from the pin for a birdie to match McIlroy as Molinari was eliminated.
Second time around it was McIlroy’s turn as he hooked a gap wedge 40 yards round a tree to the back edge of the green, only for Lin to fire his own approach to within inches of the pin for the winning birdie.
World No.17 McIlroy admitted he had relived the moment during his practice round on Tuesday. “I played the 18th again today and went over to where Lin Wen Tang hit his shot from and where I hit my shot from.
“It was brilliant, especially his as he was right in the middle of the trees and to get it up and over the trees, through a little gap and on to such a small area of the green was incredible.
“On the journey from the club to the airport afterwards I had a lot of calls and texts saying I was unlucky but it was a big positive for me. I shot 65 in the last round and any other day I would have done more than enough to win the playoff. He went birdie-birdie in the playoff and you can’t beat that.
“Even finishing second I felt very happy as I knew I couldn’t have done any more. Bittersweet memories but it was another week I got myself right in contention. This event last year got me in the top 50 in the world so it was a big event for me.”
McIlroy is currently second in the European Tour’s Race To Dubai standings with earnings of €2,352,259, trailing Lee Westwood by €52,320 with just two events remaining – the UBS Hong Kong Open, which tees off on Thursday, and next week’s Dubai World Championship.
“These two weeks are going to be very good. I love coming to Hong Kong,” said McIlroy.
“It’s my fifth year coming here – twice as an amateur and then this is my third Hong Kong Open. I love the city and the course, it is one of my favourite weeks of the year. Winning this event will take care of catching Lee, so that’s what I’m focusing on.”
World No.4 Westwood is also in the UBS Hong Kong Open line-up together Asia’s first Major winner, Yang Yong Eun, and defending champion Lin.
World No.13 Ian Poulter – recent winner of the Singapore Open – and former British Open champions Mark O’Meara and Ben Curtis are also in the field.
Before his press conference, McIlroy and Chinese No.1 Liang Wenchong conducted a golf clinic for Hong Kong’s Special Olympics golf team and the Northern Irish youngster said it had been a wonderful experience.
“It puts things into perspective,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether I win or not, I’m very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing.”
The UBS Hong Kong Open – Hong Kong’s oldest professional sporting event, having started in 1959 – is once again co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours.