This event, after all, is an eight-player exhibition in which last place receives $300,000. No world-ranking points are at stake. Players are wearing shorts and sporting offseason beards.
Still, there was ample evidence to suggest this wasn’t just another 18-hole round for Woods. Though he may have displayed an air of insouciance in previous encounters with McIlroy – including their frequent groupings during the FedEx Cup – Woods was businesslike in his approach Thursday at Antalya Golf Club, chitchatting sparingly with the 23-year-old, walking on opposite sides of the fairway, pummeling his opponent during a ball-striking clinic.
Yep, Round 1 went to Tiger.
And it wasn’t even close.
In their first head-to-head showdown, Woods thumped McIlroy, 64-70, to knock out the world No. 1 from the competition and advance to the semifinals. Later this morning, Woods will face another Sean Foley pupil, Justin Rose, with a finals berth on the line.
“I felt good today,” Woods said on the Sky Sports broadcast. “Really, really hit it good. I missed quite a few putts out there too, which is really interesting, because it could have been a real low number. But it’s good to advance this afternoon.”
McIlroy arrived in Turkey earlier this week having not swung a club since the Ryder Cup. That rust was evident in his Round 1 performance, during which he “lost interest,” according to opponent Matt Kuchar, and shot 76. The PGA champion was a bit sharper (and more competitive) in a Day 2 loss to Charl Schwartzel, but nonetheless it would have taken a thorough domination of Woods – and then some help – for McIlroy to advance in the round-robin format.
Instead, he found himself on the receiving end of one of Woods’ vintage knockouts.
Stuffing numerous approach shots inside 8 feet, Woods went out in 5-under 31 to seize an early five-shot lead. (He finished with a bogeyless 64, easily his best round of the week.) McIlroy did himself no favors either, bogeying his opening hole and failing to mount any kind of comeback on the back nine. With tennis-star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki watching each of his matches this week, McIlroy went 0-3.
The Northern Irishman – and golf fans – won’t need to wait nearly as long for a rematch. McIlroy and Woods are set to face off again on Oct. 29, in a one-day Duel at Jinsha Lake exhibition in China.
Rose advanced to the semis with the best round of the week, a 9-under 62, to knock out Webb Simpson (67).
Also advancing out of Group 2 was Lee Westwood (64), who defeated Hunter Mahan (69).
In the semis, Westwood will face Schwartzel, who moved on to the next round with a superbly played, 63-65 win over Matt Kuchar.