While they’re officially former management stablemates, the US Open winning duo were very much at ease in each other’s company over some five hours and despite the bitterly cold and windy conditions in the Chinese financial capital.
After signing for a 71, McDowell praised McIlroy, declaring the golf world should prepare themselves for a return of the form. McIlroy, who carded a 70, revealed his disappointment in missing McDowell’s Caribbean wedding and admitted he commissioned McDowell’s new wife Kristin to design the interior of his palatial Florida home.
“G-Mac and I talked a little bit about the wedding and from the sounds of it, it was a great one I missed but then he filled me in on everything and I’m really happy for him,” said McIlroy.
“Also Kristin’s a great girl and I’m happy for the both of them. She did the interior design on my house in Florida and did a really great job with that, as well as G-Mac’s house.
“Let me say it’s not just G-Mac making the money in that relationship. And G-Mac’s not changed a bit even though he is now a married man.”
While the Ulster pair are now seemingly back being as close as two peas in a pod, McIlroy’s made an even bigger revelation, declaring the combination of his latest Nike driver and ball to be the best of his career.
Nick Faldo heavily criticised McIlroy’s switch from Titleist to Nike and suggesting the combination of McIlroy’s Titleist driver and ball to be his golfing ‘DNA’. But it seems now after some 10 months, and on the back of finishing runner-up last week in Korea, McIlroy’s finally got the golfing macromolecules in order.
“The driver I’m now using and the new Nike ball I’m hitting I think is the best driver and ball combination I’ve ever had in my career,” said McIlroy.
“I’m hitting the highest ball speed ever that’s 180mph and this is the first year in my career I’ve got into the 180s in ball speed. This new driver has upped that again and with the new ball being softer around the greens.
“I first tested the new ball at the Bridgestone Invitational and they gave me a couple of dozen to hit at a Nike shoot in LA on the Monday after the Tour Championship, so I brought a couple of dozen home with me. But the most comforting thing for me stepping onto a first tee is that I am swinging the club well again, at last. That’s more comforting than anything else.
“It means I won’t have to spend any time over the Christmas and New Year break on any testing with Nike.”
McDowell capped his round by holing a 90-foot putt for eagle at the par five 13th in his first event also since the FedEx Cup Play-Off and was also singing McIlroy’s praise.
“Rory off the tee looked very much 2011 and 2012, and a bit ominous, really,” said McDowell. “He drove it a lot more like the Rory of old and he was awesome off the tee.”
P‘draig Harrington posted a level par 72 as he looks to break back into the world’s top-100, but Paul McGinley and Shane Lowry struggled with respective scores of 77 and 78. McGinley was two over in the tough conditions with three to play but then tripled the 16th while Lowry’s score was identical with three holes to complete before doubling both the 16th and 17th holes.
John Daly, also competing on an invitation, shot 68 to be in second place in his first event in nearly four months since undergoing elbow surgery.