Jinsha Lake 2012: Rory McIlroy beats Tiger Woods in China exhibition

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The first head-to-head matchup between Woods and McIlroy — at the eight-player World Golf Final in Turkey this month — was far more one-sided. Woods shot a 7-under 64 to defeat the Northern Irishman by six strokes in a group match at the exhibition event.

China has lured a number of the world’s top players with lucrative exhibitions in the past few years as part of an effort to grow the sport’s popularity and market a bevy of new celebrity-designed courses.

No expense — or extravagance — was spared in welcoming Woods and McIlroy to the Jinsha Lake Golf Club.

As stunt planes buzzed overhead, a fleet of Rolls Royces whisked the players to the course, passing helicopters for sale and Aston Martins and Maseratis with showgirls draped over them. After the two struck a gong to open the event, fireworks exploded behind them and confetti cannons rained gold flakes over the jostling crowd.

Some spectators, however, were skeptical whether an event like this would actually attract new fans to the sport in China.

“The bosses here maybe want to sell the villas so they introduce two big stars to come here,” said Michael Wong, vice editor-in-chief of China’s Golfweek magazine in Beijing. “It’s a show more than a game.”

Nonetheless, fans on the course were excited to see golf’s biggest names.

Ji Tianxin, a 14-year-old student and occasional golfer, came with her father from Nanjing to watch McIlroy, her favorite player.

“I don’t usually get this chance to watch the best players,” she said, watching the players putt on the fourth hole. “I think the two are both stars so I really wanted to see them.”

The duel even led to some sibling rivalry between a brother and sister from Beijing. Li Weiyang is a longtime fan of Woods because he appreciates his skills and finds him “charming,” but his older sister Jing Sun was rooting for McIlroy.

Jing said they didn’t have a wager on the match, but she thought it was a good idea.

“The bet can be who will drive back home,” she said. “It’s a long drive.”

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