On the eve of his defence of the UBS Hong Kong Open title, Rory McIlroy won the ‘Urban Golf Challenge’ against his Ryder Cup team-mate Paul Lawrie, their inspirational Captain José María Olazábal, the World Number 17 Matt Kuchar and amateur starlet Steven Lam.
Surrounded by Hong Kong’s iconic skyline, the quintet took turns to try their luck at achieving a hole in one at the specially-designed Urban Golf Challenge par three, set in Chater Garden, in the heart of the city’s Central District.
And it was McIlroy who took the honours after hitting nearest the pin. "I've won four tournaments this year but this was the biggest one of the lot!" he joked as he collected his champagne. "I was nervous at The Ryder Cup but nothing compared to this!"
Kuchar, Lawrie and McIlroy had all appeared at a press conference at The Peak Tower on Tuesday afternoon, but on this occasion they let their clubs do the talking as they sought bragging rights ahead of this week’s US$2million tournament.
Recently-crowned Race to Dubai champion McIlroy boasts a formidable record in the event, having won last year and finished runner-up in 2008 and 2009.
The World Number One counts Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Golf Club amongst his favourite cities and courses in the world, and was undoubtedly the star attraction of the Urban Golf Challenge.
Olazábal, the man who masterminded the ‘Miracle of Medinah’, is also a former winner, having won the UBS Hong Kong Open the first year it joined The European Tour International Schedule, in 2002.
Lawrie was, of course, a member of Europe’s triumphant Ryder Cup Team as well as McIlroy, and the Scot’s aim in Hong Kong this week is to consolidate his position in the top ten of The Race to Dubai, and so secure a slice of the Bonus Pool at the end of the season.
UBS Hong Kong Open debutant Kuchar has been impressed with the city so far, and the American was hoping to gain a measure of revenge in the Challenge over his European counterparts, having been powerless to prevent Olazábal’s men from staging a remarkable final day comeback in Illinois.
Lam, meanwhile, is one of Hong Kong’s brightest young golfing prospects, and the 19 year old – whose amateur achievements include victory in the 2009 Faldo Series Hong Kong Championship – tried his best to upstage his more celebrated rivals.
The real action gets underway at the Hong Kong Golf Club on Thursday, when McIlroy starts the defence of his title at 12pm in the company of Matteo Manassero, winner in Singapore last week, and their fellow European Tour champion Liang Wen-chong.