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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland signs autographs for fans during the final practice round during The Open Championship at Royal St. George's on July 13, 2011 in Sandwich, England

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland signs autographs for fans during the final practice round during The Open Championship at Royal St. George's on July 13, 2011 in Sandwich, England

Stuart Franklin

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy throws his putter in the air after playing a shot on the green during a practice day for the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George's, Sandwich. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday July 13, 2011. The 2011 Open Championship begins on Thursday 14th July. See PA Story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy throws his putter in the air after playing a shot on the green during a practice day for the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George's, Sandwich. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday July 13, 2011. The 2011 Open Championship begins on Thursday 14th July. See PA Story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information

Owen Humphreys

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy throwing his putter in the air after playing a shot on the green during a practice day for the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George's, Sandwich

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy throwing his putter in the air after playing a shot on the green during a practice day for the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George's, Sandwich

Owen Humphreys

Rory McIlroy (L) and Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland share a laugh during the final practice round during The Open Championship at Royal St. George's on July 13, 2011 in Sandwich, England

Rory McIlroy (L) and Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland share a laugh during the final practice round during The Open Championship at Royal St. George's on July 13, 2011 in Sandwich, England

Stuart Franklin

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

Stephen Wilson

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye  22nd June 2011US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy back at Hollywood Golf Club, Belfast©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye 22nd June 2011US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy back at Hollywood Golf Club, Belfast©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club outside Belfast.  Rory's former girlfriend Holly pictured at the club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club outside Belfast. Rory's former girlfriend Holly pictured at the club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club outside Belfast.  Rory's father Gerry pictured at the club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club outside Belfast. Rory's father Gerry pictured at the club

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 2011 - 22nd June Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club outside Belfast.  Fans pictured at the club.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland 2011 - 22nd June Picture by Jonathan Porter/ PressEye.com - US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club outside Belfast. Fans pictured at the club.

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

Stephen Wilson

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open champion Rory McIlroy returns home to Holywood Golf Club, Co. Down

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy back at Hollywood Golf Club. Rory with his nephew Fergus

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy back at Hollywood Golf Club. Rory with his nephew Fergus

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

©Russell Pritchard / Presseye

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

Peter Macdiarmid

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

US Open Champion 2011 Rory McIlroy returns to Hollywood Golf Club

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

Kelvin Boyes/Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

Kelvin Boyes/Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

US Open winner Rory McIlroy meets the First Minister and deputy First Minister

©Kelvin Boyes / Presseye

/

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland signs autographs for fans during the final practice round during The Open Championship at Royal St. George's on July 13, 2011 in Sandwich, England

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 of 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 the Ulsterman.

The frenzy was predictable, if not inevitable.

Ever since his eight-shot victory at the US Open three weeks ago, 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. As stress rehearsals go, yesterday's was the briefest snapshot of his future.

"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 anymore," 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 lay 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. But with experts hailing him as the next heir to Jack Nicklaus.

At least McIlroy has already waved something in glory here, and his 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 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, who was for so long mentor to his young countryman, brought a halt to what he called the "sycophancy". "Listen, I'm not going to stand here and gush about him anymore," barked Clarke. "Just calm yourself will ya?"

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. McIlroy is the focus and it matters not a jot that for the first time in history England take the world's No 1 and 2 into its home Open.

He is centre of the narrative; the golfing world now spins around him. Even the weather forecast is reviewed with McIlroy in mind. On that score, it's apparently bad news for McIlroy. This morning will feature gusts which will die down in the afternoon.

Tomorrow will start off calm, with the winds building later. In other words it will be a sizeable advantage to go out late today and early tomorrow. McIlroy has the early-late draw.

No doubt, he will console himself with the thought that seaside weather predictions are notoriously inaccurate. But still, the outlook will be of concern.

McIlroy is not the only marquee name who would be suffering. Luke Donald, the world No 1, will be immediately behind the McIlroy group, which also includes the American Rickie Fowler and Ernie Els.

But remember Ben Curtis and remember that, as in 2003, anything can happen "on the biggest pinball machine in the world". That is how they describe Sandwich and as Clarke's plea intimated yesterday it is unfair for such expectation to stalk McIlroy into an arena where luck will very likely deliver the verdict.

But that's where he is and that's where we are. In many respects, the Rory era will start today in Kent. Up there to be shot at, with friendly fire all around.

Belfast Telegraph


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