Rory McIlroy may not be turning up here until tomorrow afternoon, but he has already had a huge effect on this Open Championship. Peter Dawson, the Royal and Ancient's chief executive, yesterday revealed that the Ulsterman's record-breaking victory at last month's US Open led to a 20 per cent rise in ticket sales.
The R&A will be mightily relieved, as the absence of Tiger Woods caused inevitable attendance fears. Instead, the crowds are set to break the record for Sandwich.
"Rory is attracting that kind of following – ticket sales took off over the US Open," he said. "With Tiger sadly not here, it is having less impact than it otherwise would, given what is happening in British and European golf. I hope a star was born at Congressional."
Indeed he was, but no less an expert than Jack Nicklaus warned yesterday: "Don't anoint him as the crown prince yet." The American knows all about hype, having won 18 majors and then sat back and watched as Woods came to be regarded as a certainty to overtake his record. And now that McIlroy has been tipped to displace him in the game's roll of honour, Nicklaus advises caution.
"Rory has won one major," said the 71-year-old. "When he starts to win two, three or four, then you can say he's the guy we've got to watch, period. But until that time comes, he's one of a group of talented players that have got an opportunity to win."
Nicklaus's comments are given further weight by the fact he has become something of a mentor to McIlroy, the 22-year-old who last month became Europe's youngest major-winner in 139 years. Before and during eight-shot victory at the US Open, McIlroy spoke about the influence of Nicklaus, with whom he has shared lunch on many occasions, the latest being at The Memorial tournament in May.
It was Nicklaus who told McIlroy to expect more from himself and to learn from the experience of Augusta, where the Ulsterman threw away a four-stroke lead with a final-round 80. But a few weeks later and Nicklaus is pleading with the media and public not to expect too much. However, the master acknowledges the supreme quality of the student.
"I think Rory will add a lot of majors," Nicklaus told the BBC. "Rory is a very talented young man who's been a factor in every one of the majors over the last year. He could have won the Masters and the US Open, he could have won the British Open last year. We're going to see him on the scene for a long time."