McIlroy leads in Shanghai

Rory McIlroy has whisked up five magical birdies on the back nine to secure the first round lead in the Shanghai Masters.

Rory McIlroy whisked up five magical birdies on the back nine to secure a one-stroke lead over Hunter Mahan in Thursday first round of the Shanghai Masters.

The US Open winner headed a steller 30-man Chinese invitational after producing eight birdies in total and no bogeys in his round of 64 at the Lake Malaren Golf Club on the outskirts of China’s largest city.

American Mahan, whose defeat to McIlroy’s great friend and Northern Irish compatriot Graeme McDowell handed Europe the 2010 Ryder Cup, had seven birdies in a similar blemish-free round.

Mahan posted three in a row on the back nine, but missed his final chance to catch and match McIlroy on the 18th hole when his attempt lipped out.

In the meantime the English duo of Paul Casey and Ian Poulter and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland were three shots back after shooting five-under 67s.

World No 2 Lee Westwood, who partnered McIlroy in the opening round, came out of it five shots worse, but kept himself in the mix after a three-under 69.

The tournament, which is in its first year, is not sanctioned by any of the major tours and is being held in the same week as the European Tour’s prestigious Andalucia Masters at Valderrama and also the US PGA and Asian Tour’s Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia.

In spite of all that, however, it has managed to attract an elite 30-man field – including 10 of the world’s top 30 players and no fewer than 10 major winners – almost certainly because of the world’s largest first prize of $2 million that it is offering its first winner.

McIlroy is currently in pole position for this massive bonanza and seems relatively confident he can stay there.

“If I can play as solid for the next three days as I did today, I feel as if I’ll be very difficult to beat,” he said.

His playing partner Westwood tweeted of his display: “69 today. Quite happy. Not played much in the last 3 weeks. Bit rusty. Putted nice.”

For his part, Mahan is delighted to be at among the front runners in an event which he believes is sure to grow into an important date on the calendar in years to come.

“They’re building golf courses daily here,” said the American. “This is a place you want to market yourself.

“No question this is one of those events I think that is going to grow through time and get bigger and bigger and I’m excited to be in at the beginning part of it.”