RORY McILROY reeled off five birdies on the back nine as he began his quest for the richest prize in world golf.
His eight-under-par 64 yesterday gave him a one-stroke lead over Hunter Mahan after the opening round of the Shanghai Masters, which carries a top prize of £1.25million.
Playing partner Lee Westwood carded a 69 as McIlroy emerged with a perfect bogey-free round.
The lucrative invitational tournament organised by the International Management Group doesn’t carry any ranking points, but many of the world’s top golfers have been lured by the £3.1m total prize pot.
The Northern Irish US Open winner had eight birdies in total at Lake Malaren Golf Club on the outskirts of Shanghai.
American Mahan had seven birdies, including three in a row on the back nine, but he missed his final chance on the 18th when his putt glanced off the lip of the cup.
England’s Paul Casey and Ian Poulter and Irish three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington were three shots back at five-under.
McIlroy said: “If I can play as solidly for the next three days as I did today, I feel I’ll be very hard to beat.”