Rory McIlroy in the limelight during Open warm-up

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The Independent Online

Rory McIlroy added another £20 to his millions today after he and Darren Clarke warmed up for The Open by beating defending champion Louis Oosthuizen and Masters winner Charl Schwartzel at Sandwich.

And one comment from a marshal was all it took to show who is now the first among equals.

As the four players reached the 15th green, many of the crowd following them took their places by the ropes leading to the next tee so they were in position to try for an autograph or a photo of golf's newest superstar.

"When he comes through be nice and courteous," said the marshal.

Among the quartet were three of the sport's four current major champions. Yet everybody knew who "he" was.

McIlroy is attracting the sort of attention once given to Tiger Woods - absent this year through injury - and he has adopted some of the methods too.

As Woods always used to, McIlroy went for a 6.30am tee-off time "to try to keep it a little bit low key" and he was off the course by 10am.

The main benefit of the round was that he had now seen Royal St George's in a different wind to the one he had encountered on his first trip to Kent last week.

"The seventh and 13th fairways were pretty tough to reach," said the 22-year-old. "If the wind stays like this they're going to have to move a couple of tees."

Because of the fast-running nature of the links, McIlroy has decided to put a two-iron into his bag for the first time, he reckoned, since he played in the 2007 Open at Carnoustie as an amateur.

It replaces a five-wood because he can keep the ball flight lower.

Fellow Northern Irishman Clarke said: "He's playing lovely and has got the ball under control - and it's always nice getting the South Africans' money.

The difficulty of the test ahead, though, was easy to see.

From just off the right-hand side of the 15th fairway, McIlroy hit his first approach into the bunker just short of the green and his next attempt went over the back.

Schwartzel, meanwhile, had hit his drive under the lip of a bunker and from there could advance his ball only a few yards.

On the downwind short next - the hole Thomas Bjorn double-bogeyed as he lost a three-shot lead in 2003 - Clarke's wedge found a bunker short of the green.

McIlroy missed a birdie putt from under four feet there and then, after driving only 50 yards short of the green on the 426-yard 17th - again downwind - his first two chip-and-runs both ran off the back edge.

That was not as bad as Schwartzel, though. From the left-hand rough he got a flyer which careered into the base of the spectator stand over the green.

Even with money on the line, it was all good fun. The serious business starts tomorrow.