Rory McIlroy kept his cool to recover from a second round double bogey at the mega-bucks Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters Friday to keep one hand on one of the largest winner's cheques in golf.
The world number three sank an eight-yard sloping putt on the 18th to secure a three-under-par 69 and a two stroke advantage over a stellar field chasing the $2 million first place prize.
The US Open champion carded six birdies in breezy conditions, but it was not all plain sailing -- he bogeyed the fourth and hit water on the ninth as an audacious attempt to recover par ended two over for the hole.
"The birdie on the 18th was a really good finish and I had a good back nine. This was a good way to come back from the really bad tee shot on the ninth," the 22-year-old said.
The Northern Irishman's impressive first round 64 was surpassed by South Korea's Noh Seung-Yul, who struggled through injury to card a consummate nine-under-par 63 and lie two shots back in second going into the weekend.
"I have a bad ankle injury and have not been able to practise. I'm just happy to have controlled my shots and my putting helped raise my score," Noh said.
South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen and American Anthony Kim are in joint third on eight under, while Kim's compatriot Hunter Mahan was unable to repeat his strong first round 65, making par 72 to lie joint fifth with Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who carded 67.
McIlroy backed himself to win the unsanctioned event but said he would have to up his birdie tally to hold off Noh.
"Noh's score is impressive and it means I'll have to start scoring lower," said the Northern Irishman.
World number two Lee Westwood was left to rue more poor putting, which left him in joint ninth on five under with Englishman Paul Casey, veteran Scot Colin Montgomerie and South African Charl Schwartzel.
"I haven't played very well in the first couple of days. I am still in with a chance and I have been in worse positions than this," said Westwood, who carded two birdies.
The $2 million winner's cheque on offer in Shanghai outstrips the offerings at the Major tournaments by a cool half a million US dollars -- but it is not quite the record amount the organisers claimed.
The annual, similarly unsanctioned self-styled "African Major", the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, became the first golf tournament ever to offer $2 million to the winner in 2000.
But the Lake Malaren first place pot dwarfs current major tournaments -- the PGA Championship offers the winner $1,445,000, the US Masters and US Open $1,440,000 and the British Open $1,430,000.
Property tycoon Shi Jian, the chairman of SRE Group, and his 28-year-old son and executive director Janson are funding the $5 million showpiece, which has been criticised by the Asian Tour as a "vanity" event to satisfy the world's elite.