McIlroy leads in Shanghai
Shanghai - World number three Rory McIlroy backed himself to win the mega-rich Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters on Thursday - and then promptly ordered a news blackout over his sudden management swap.
The US Open champion sacked his long-term agent Chubby Chandler last week, but the managerial reshuffle does not appear to have affected his concentration.
The 22-year-old fired a cool first-round eight-under-par 64 on Thursday to lead a stellar field chasing the $2 million winner's cheque at the non-sanctioned event.
American Hunter Mahan shot a seven-under-par 65 to keep the pressure on McIlory, while England's Ian Poulter and Paul Casey both carded five-under 67 to secure joint third with Ireland's multiple Major winner Padraig Harrington.
McIlroy was paired with world number two Lee Westwood, amid media claims the rivals had fallen out following the Northern Irishman's sudden decision to sack the agent they shared.
Englishman Westwood said on Twitter that his rival had made a "bizarre decision" - the latest in a series of terse online exchanges between the two over the last month.
But signs of frost between the pair on the front nine soon thawed, with Westwood advising McIlroy on a free drop when he came unstuck in the lip of a bunker on the 15th.
McIlroy shot four birdies and was in no mood to discuss his departure from Chandler's International Sports Management during his post-round press conference.
"I've come here to talk about my 66," he said when asked about his move and claims of a rift with his former stablemate.
McIlory was happy to claim himself unbeatable in the 72-hole tournament, the latest big money event in China aimed at luring the game's biggest names from the major PGA, European and Asian tour dates.
"If I can play as solid for the next three days as I did today, then I feel I will be very difficult to beat," he said.
"I am just giving myself plenty of opportunities. I didn't miss too many greens and if you can do that, you'll always be tough to beat."
The 38-year-old Westwood, who boasts a formidable Asian track record with wins in the Indonesian Masters, the Ballantine's Championship in South Korea and the China Golf Challenge, began strongly.
But his putting let him down, putting him three under par and joint eighth going into the second round.
He showed his unhappiness with the often noisy spectators on the tees, sarcastically telling one trigger-happy camera-holding fan: "If you ask me, I'll smile next time."
His caddie also tried to take a camera off of one spectator and Westwood received some on-the-hoof Chinese lessons to humorously tell fans to stop taking photos in a language they understood.
China's Li Chao kept up local hopes with a four under 68 to lie joint sixth with American Anthony Kim.
Li is one of nine Chinese players vying for a chunk of the $5 million purse funded by tournament owners, property tycoon Shi Jian and his 28-year-old son and partner Janson.
Other big name players enticed by hefty appearance fees and the attractive last place $25 000 loser's cheque include major champions such as Charl Schwartzel, Bradley Keegan plus Colin Mongtomerie.Leading first round scores from the unsanctioned $5 million Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters in Shanghai on Thursday:
64 - Rory McIlroy (N Ire)
65 - Hunter Mahan (USA)
67 - Paul Casey (Eng), Ian Poulter (Eng), Padraig Harrington (Irel)
68 - Anthony Kim (USA), Li Chao (CHN)
69 - John Daly (USA), Robert Karlsson (SWE), YE Yang (KOR), GOOSEN, Retief Goosen
(RSA), Lee Westwood (ENG)
70 - Mu Hu, (CHN), Colin Montgomerie (SCOT), Charl Schwartzel (RSA), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA)
71 - Xin-jun Zhang (CHN)
72 - Noh Seung-yul (KOR) Kevin Na (USA), Bradley Keegan (USA)
73 - Wu Ah-shun (CHN), Huang Wen-yi (CHN), KJ Choi (KOR), Geoff Ogilvy (AUS)