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Comment: How Masters crowds prove Rory McIlroy's global appeal is up there with Tiger Woods

Tee to green: Rory McIlroy walks to the eighth tee at Augusta in his
Masters opening round last night on his way to a one over par 73
Tee to green: Rory McIlroy walks to the eighth tee at Augusta in his Masters opening round last night on his way to a one over par 73
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

There's a general rule of thumb when you're at a golf tournament: if you want to find the biggest players, look for the biggest crowds.

Now, that's harder to do when you're at a Major and there are people everywhere and the field consists solely of top players, particularly at Augusta. But, if you look closely enough, you'll eventually find them.

With Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy playing in back-to-back groups, the task was made considerably easier - the masses of shirts in all different colours tending to congregate around two consecutive holes.

So much has been made of the mini-battle between the two on the course in terms of the golf itself, but there's an intriguing sub-plot between the pair among the crowds too as to who is pulling in more support.

The truth is, the crowds come for Tiger, but they stay for Rory.

I followed McIlroy on the course for his front nine and you can see the movement from the patrons as he makes his way around the course. The crowds are already there, lying in wait for Tiger, but whenever he's gone, they stay to see McIlroy, and not only that but there are crowds coming along behind him to boost it.

By the time McIlroy is finishing on a hole, there are more people there watching him than there were for Woods - and the numbers don't lie.

It's not a contest, even if it could perhaps be sold as one, but it's a reminder of the global appeal of McIlroy, the man who is much-loved by not just a Northern Irish audience but the golfing populous worldwide.

As I stood on the second, waiting for McIlroy to hit, I turned to my left and saw a photographer from the local Augusta Chronicle, and to my right was a reporter from China, both equally enthralled by the man we were watching.

The cries of 'Come on, Rory!' were in a multitude of accents, the people clamouring just to get a look at him from a whole host of backgrounds and cultures. The only other golfer capturing that much attention was a group ahead, and not even Tiger was in that much demand.

You can only marvel at the brand that McIlroy has made for himself that even the home fans root for him. There are few players in the world that can boast such support from an American crowd that tends to be as partisan as they come.

It was a savvy move from Masters organisers to pair them in such a way - keep them apart, to dissect the crowd and avoid too much clamour, while at the same time taking advantage of their star pulling power. It's the perfect combination for them, the two most marketable stars combining to draw in a bumper crowd for what could easily be seen as a head-to-head duel.

McIlroy will need to produce a special round today to get the weekend pairing we all crave, and we know he can. After all, who wouldn't be pulling for a Rory/Tiger final pairing on Sunday afternoon at Augusta?

Then we might get a chance to see what their combined pulling power can really do.

Belfast Telegraph


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