Straight from the where-has-this-been-for-the-past-decade department, Rory McIlroy defeated Tiger Woods by one shot in an exhibition dubbed the “Duel at Jinsha Lake” in Zhenghou, China on Monday.  Rory fired a 5-under 67 and lead throughout the round, as Tiger closed strong to fire a 4-under 68 of his own.

The match was played at Jinsha Lake Golf Club, coming on the heels of Tiger’s 64-70 dusting of Rory at the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final (that still seemingly nobody saw).  Rory’s round was bogey free and solid all the way through, as only a chip-in followed by a holed 15-footer on 14 by Tiger made the end result look closer than it actually was.  Rory received a $1 million appearance fee for competing, Tiger received a cool $2 million.

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Both Rory and Tiger were wired for sound during the made for TV event and chatted freely throughout the round.

The topics that they discussed?  Oh, anything from swing changes where Tiger admitted that at times he has been, “struggling with Sean,” a reference of course to working with his swing coach Sean Foley.  He elaborated saying, “I’ve been hitting my short irons so (bleeping) far,” then went on to say that he used to rarely take divots with short irons, but now is digging heavily into the sod under Foley.

Whether or not this was “staged” or not, it was good to see Tiger be open and candid.  His distance control indeed has been nothing short of pathetic this season as he has been airmailing greens with wedges in hand with regularity, something that has looked very 1996-Tiger-like, not the Tiger 4.0 (or whatever number swing change we’re at now, I think we’ve all lost count).

Rory and Tiger also talked equipment, and even though it seemed, ahem, a little staged, it was interesting to see Rory grab an iron from Tiger’s bag while walking off the fourth tee and swing it a few times.  They later talked golf balls and spin rates, furthering the speculation that Rory’s ginormous Nike contract is nothing short of highly imminent.

Other topics that they discussed were Rory’s victory at the Honda Classic in March, where Tiger closed with a sizzling 62 to finish t-2nd, which caused Rory to crack, “all that fist-pumping for nothing.”  Tiger also said that he lost eight pounds (gulp!) last week while playing in the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia because the heat was so breathtakingly hot.  “It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest, I had sweat dripping off my shirt when I was over the ball,” said Tiger about the brutal sweathouse temperatures.

The duo played in just 3 hours and 15 minutes, which is, well not that fast for two average Joes playing golf, but is quite fast for two touring professionals.  The match brought out thousands of Chinese fans who weren’t shy about clicking cell phone pics of both Rory and Tiger (hey, it’s just an exhibition), and clearly were excited to see the world’s top two players, albeit a little unfamiliar with golf etiquette (apparently a couple fans just randomly started walking onto the greens several times not knowing that they were over stepping their bounds as they were just trying to get closer to the players).

The match got us thinking back to the great days of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, remember those?  Yep, the matches featuring Jack Whitaker’s stoic yet gentle voice, fascinating destinations around the globe and some of the world’s top talent.  You’ll see a random replay of them here and there on Golf Channel, but the actual events themselves have ceased due to sponsorship reasons.  Maybe it’s just me, but it’s always fun to see the world’s best kick back a bit, chat it up on the course and go head to head with one another.  It’s no wonder that Fred Couples seemed to win about every single one of those things over the years, as that past description of the events is Freddy to a “T.”

For now, basically we’re just happy to see one of these exhibitions scheduled again, and even though it was yet another one of those events not televised and was buried in the middle of the night here in the U.S., hey, it happened, so hopefully this will open the door for more of these again in the near future.

Joel Harrington