McIlroy mobbed as frenzy builds on eve of Open

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The Independent Online

If Rory McIlroy needed any gauge of the clamour which will welcome him here this morning then he was given it in quite disturbing circumstances at the side of the 18th hole yesterday. He admitted to knowing how Tiger Woods felt, which is apt as that is exactly the role he will be filling when the 140th Open Championship tees off today.

McIlroy walked off the final green after his one and only official practice round and was confronted with a huge crowd yelling for his autograph. The 22-year-old obliged before suddenly stopping and making his way to the clubhouse. The reasons were not selfish. "I really had to stop because there were people getting hurt at the front because of the fences," said McIlroy.

The frenzy was predictable, if not inevitable. Ever since his eight-shot victory at the US Open, the excitement has been building for his competitive return. That it comes not just at a major, but as he says at "my home major", has only cranked up the anticipation to ecstatic levels.

"I just thought today I'd get up early and get out there and try to sort of keep it a little bit low key, not that I can do that any more," said McIlroy explaining his 6.50am tee-off. "I can understand why Tiger would go out at that time," he added. Earlier in the week he refused extra security saying he wanted to remain accessible to his fans and somewhere in Florida, Woods might have enjoyed a small chuckle. Perhaps only he knows what lies in wait for McIlroy, not just the distraction outside the ropes but the distraction within. Not since Woods 14 years ago, has any favourite in a major been younger. Just 22.

McIlroy's legion of fans will be praying he can play out the scene outside the scorer's hut to more significant effect in front of the clubhouse on Sunday evening. True, this time it was only a £20 note won from Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. South Africa's two young major champions had joined Darren Clarke (above) and McIlroy on the 11th and then challenged them to a fourball.

Wrong choice. "Rory's swinging the club lovely," said Clarke. "He's got the ball under control and is playing great." But then, Clarke, brought a halt to what he called the "sycophancy". "Listen I'm not going to stand here and gush about him anymore," barked Clarke.

Fat chance. Clarke might as well have barked at the Gods to calm the gusts, which seem determined to make this Championship such a searching test.

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