SHANGHAI • Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy hit a towering approach shot to set up a birdie at the first extra hole and beat American Xander Schauffele at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai yesterday.
After defending champion Schauffele had birdied the par-five 18th in the final round to tie in regulation, McIlroy prevailed in the sudden-death play-off, relieved to escape with his fourth victory of the year, and the 26th of his career.
He struck a four-iron from 225 yards to within 20 feet of the pin for a two-putt birdie that Schauffele, whose drive had ended in the rough, could not match with his 10-foot birdie opportunity.
In an exciting final round at Sheshan International, McIlroy carded a four-under 68 while Schauffele had a 66 in what turned into a battle royale in front of a massive pro-McIlroy gallery. The duo finished at 19-under 269, two ahead of South African Louis Oosthuizen (69).
McIlroy was perhaps fortunate to be in a play-off after a poor drive at the final hole of regulation drifted perilously close to the water hazard lining the right side of the fairway.
Following that reprieve, the four-time Major champion made amends in the play-off. He said of his winning approach: "It was a perfect (yardage) for a four-iron back into the wind a little bit. You've got to take everything else out of the equation and just hit the shot."
Schauffele, 26, won last year on the same hole in a play-off with Tony Finau, and almost repeated the feat despite suffering flu-like symptoms for much of the week.
"When he's on, I'd say he's arguably the best player in the world," said Schauffele, who could hardly have been more impressed by McIlroy's brilliant long and straight driving for most of the championship.
"He made me play better. I know what I need to do to become a better player."
McIlroy, 30, has now won three of the four events that comprise the World Golf Championships series, only the Mexico Championship, where he came second this year, missing from his resume.
He will remain world No. 2 behind Brooks Koepka, who missed the event due to a knee injury. The European Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, from Nov 21-24, is McIlroy's last remaining event this year.
Yesterday's win comes two weeks after Koepka, with four Major wins in the past three years, said he did not consider McIlroy a rival.
McIlroy, whose four Majors came between 2011 and 2014, before Koepka even made it out onto the PGA Tour, accepted the American's comment with grace, but it is clear he is using it as motivation.
"I am mindful of it," said McIlroy, who earned US$1.745 million (S$2.37 million) for his triumph. "I'm still a little behind (Koepka) I think, but I'm getting there."
"I really wanted to get another win before the end of the year and now that I've done that, it would be nice to get two wins."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE