Rory McIlroy was entrusted by the Royal and Ancient yesterday to fill the huge berth left by Tiger Woods' absence, but the young Ulsterman has refused to take the former world No 1's security cordon as well. The "new Tiger" is evidently determined not to be the "old Tiger".
Woods has been "drawn" at 9.09am in the first round in every Open Championship since 2006 and the R&A made quite clear who they believe to be his successor when throwing McIlroy into the marquee threeball alongside Rickie Fowler and Ernie Els.
The young Ulsterman has declined the offer to make himself unique in the championship and have his own personal guards, à la Woods. "I asked him if he wanted extra security but he said no," said his manager, Andrew Chandler. "It will be the same for Rory as for any other player. He wants to remain accessible to his fans."
His fans were out in force here yesterday, but were left disappointed after an embarrassing R&A blunder. McIlroy publicised his intention not to show up here until tomorrow, but when his name went up on the practice round starting board there was inevitably much excitement. McIlroy's name remained next to the 3.30pm tee-off time for more than an hour, before his management alerted them to the mistake.
The R&A are certainly aware of the interest in McIlroy this week after last month's heroics at Congressional. Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the governing body, revealed that ticket sales rose 20 per cent after the record-breaking eight-shot win at the US Open. That was no doubt foremost in their reasoning when they made their "draw".
McIlroy was happy with the news. "Great draw for the first two rounds of the Open," he tweeted. "There should be a nice buzz around the first tee on Thursday." His handlers are expecting it to be "madness" as the journalists and photographers fight for the prime positions inside the ropes and as the mêlée is multiplied outside the ropes. The fears are that it will be overwhelming for the 22-year-old, the youngest favourite of a major since Woods 12 years ago. But Justin Rose believes his friend has the wherewithal to handle all the added pressure.
"To be coping with that means you've already achieved great things," said Rose, who finished fourth in the Open as a 17-year-old amateur. "I was not a seasoned great player when I was asked to do it. I didn't have Rory's skills to rely on. He's much better equipped to cope than I was."
McIlroy will hold a press conference at 3.30pm today and his management were working with the R&A last night to control the media frenzy. He has not played since his major breakthrough and is the hottest property in golf. After his comfortable Scottish Open win on Sunday, Donald was backed in from 16-1 to 12-1. But still, despite his ranking, Donald has to cede popularity on both the betting lists and starting sheet.
Fowler is a friend of McIlroy's. The pair are the same age and played against each other in the 2007 Walker Cup match on McIlroy's home turf of Royal County Down (Fowler won). On Sunday, the Californian told The Independent how much he had been inspired by McIlroy. "It was inspiring to see a fellow young player do what Rory McIlroy did at Congressional," said the man often referred to as "America's Rory".
Fowler was practising in the beautiful sunshine yesterday and once again expressed his liking for the "quirky" layout. The rough isn't high, thus the challenge should be so more straightforward than in 2003.
Another American who created great interest was the left-hander Bubba Watson. Two weeks ago at the French Open, Watson said he "couldn't leave quickly enough" after being upset by the crowd's proximity to the players and their use of mobile phones and cameras. He referred to the Eiffel Tower as "the big tower" and the Palace of Versailles as "the castle". When missing the cut he said he would travel back over the Atlantic to the Open, "because it's an Open – that's the only reason".
As it turned out, he was full of contrition yesterday, although his explanation of his behaviour may raise a few eyebrows. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean any harm," said Watson. "I was just uncomfortable. It is just like being uncomfortable with heights. I'm uncomfortable with heights, I'm scared of the dark and I'm scared of big crowds."
* Thomas Bjorn was handed an Open berth last night after Vijay Singh's withdrawal. Bjorn was three shots ahead with four holes left the last time the championship was staged at Sandwich in 2003, but, after taking three shots to escape a bunker on the 16th, ended up losing by a stroke to 350-1 outsider Ben Curtis.
Selected tee-off times for the 140th Open
Royal St George's GC, Sandwich, Kent, England (GB & Irl unless stated, all times local): (*) denotes amateurs
0630 & 1131 Nathan Green (Aus), Jerry Kelly (US), Danny Willett
0641 & 1142 Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Mark Calcavecchia (US), Graeme Storm
0703 & 1204 Simon Khan, Todd Hamilton (US), Prayad Marksaeng (Tha)
0725 & 1226 Simon Dyson, Thomas Bjorn (Den), Gary Woodland (US)
0809 & 1310 Geoff Ogilvy (Aus), Peter Uihlein* (US), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Sp)
0820 & 1321 Francesco Molinari (It), Tetsuji Hiratsuka (Jpn), Stewart Cink (US)
0831 & 1332 Nick Watney (US), Matteo Manassero (Ita), Angel Cabrera (Arg)
0842 & 1343 Yuta Ikeda (Jpn), Ian Poulter, Dustin Johnson (US)
0858 & 1359 Paul Casey, Ben Curtis (US), Aaron Baddeley (Aus)
0909 & 1410 Ernie Els (RSA), Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler (US)
0920 & 1421 Luke Donald, Ryo Ishikawa (Jpn), Sergio Garcia (Sp)
0931 & 1432 Hunter Mahan (US), Retief Goosen (RSA), Anders Hansen (Den)
0942 & 1443 Brian Davis, Camilo Villegas (Col), David Duval (US)
0953 & 1454 Ross Fisher, John Daly (US), Peter Hanson (Swe)
1004 & 1505 Jason Dufner (US), Gregory Bourdy (Fr), Craig Hinton*
1015 & 1516 Alexander Noren (Swe), Paul Lawrie, Kevin Na (US)
1226 & 0725 Sandy Lyle, Rory Sabbatini (RSA), Anthony Kim (US)
1259 & 0758 Jonathan Byrd (US), Darren Clarke, YE Yang (S Kor)
1321 & 0820 Bryden Macpherson* (Aus), Matt Kuchar (US), Padraig Harrington
1332 & 0831 Zach Johnson (US), Adam Scott (Aus), Justin Rose
1343 & 0842 Jason Day (Aus), Graeme McDowell, Bubba Watson (US)
1359 & 0858 Bernhard Langer (Ger), Jim Furyk (US), Tadahiro Takayama (Jpn)
1410 & 0909 Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker (US), Charl Schwartzel (RSA)
1421 & 0920 Martin Kaymer (Ger), Louis Oosthuizen (RSA), Phil Mickelson (US)
1432 & 0931 Henrik Stenson (Swe), Tom Lewis*, Tom Watson (US)
1516 & 1015 Justin Leonard (US), Kurt Barnes (Aus), Jeff Overton (US)
1538 & 1037 Tom Lehman (US), Ryan Palmer (US), Adam Wootton
1549 & 1048 Jung-Gon Hwang (S Kor), Gary Boyd, Robert Garrigus (US)