Rory McIlroy stormed back from his US Masters heartache with “probably” his longest ever drive Thursday as Sweden’s Alexander Noren lit up the Malaysian Open with a dazzling eight-under-par 64. McIlroy said he was completely recovered from Sunday’s agonising collapse at Augusta after hitting 69 to be five shots off Noren, whose astonishing nine birdies against one bogey gave him early control in sweltering Kuala Lumpur.
But jet-lagged US Masters champion Charl Schwartzel stumbled to one-over 73 as he came down to earth with a bump after Sunday’s heroics, when he birdied the last four holes to claim a memorable victory. Italian hotshot Matteo Manassero, 17, lay two shots back from Noren with 66 at par-72 Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, with India’s Jeev Milkha Singh among three players sharing third spot on five-under 67.
British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen carded a solid 69 to be in contention and world number one Martin Kaymer closed the day on 70, as leader Noren admitted even he was taken by surprise by his birdie blitz. “I was really nervous going into this round, I don’t know why,” said the Swede. “I starting off holing a nice putt on 10, 11 and 12 and thought, ‘what’s going on?’ My putter was great today. After that my driver was steady then it was all about getting it close enough.”
McIlroy said his tee-shot on the par-five fifth went “at least” 400 yards after a kind bounce off a cart-path. It was just the boost the Northern Irishman needed after throwing away a four-shot lead on the Masters’ final day. “You don’t say this too often, but I was actually too close to the green on a par five,” he said of the monster drive. “It must have went at least 400 yards. “I was lucky, it hit off the cart-path and it could have went out of bounds, but it stayed in bounds for me and it set up an easy birdie.