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Rory McIlroy factor could limit Open crowd numbers at Royal Portrush

By Paul Kelly

Rory McIlroy's homeland popularity, coupled with the historic significance of the event, could see a cap placed on spectator numbers at next year's Open Championship at Royal Portrush for the first time in the tournament's 158 years.

A daily limit of 50,000 is under consideration with early expressions of interest in tickets, and the potential for a resurgent McIlroy, convincing the Royal and Ancient organisers that The Open's return to Northern Ireland for the first time in almost 70 years will require a plan to deal with anticipated record-breaking attendances.

Proving the point, Rory and playing partner Tiger Woods attracted the biggest galleries at the Genesis Open in California with Rory ending on level-par 71 with Tiger a shot behind. Graeme McDowell fared even better with a two-under-par 69.

Individual daily attendance figures at The Open Championship regularly top 40,000. In 2014, when Rory McIlroy collected the Claret Jug at Hoylake, 42,000 came through the gates. Just imagine the clamour for tickets if he finds himself in contention on the final day at Royal Portrush next year?

Given that the Irish Open in 2012 at the same venue was a sell-out, with over 130,000 attending, R&A officials are now pondering a move which would be a first in the history of the celebrated major Championship.

R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers said the issue was being given 'serious consideration'.

"It's not just the compactness (of the site), but what do fans really want, which is they want to get as close to the players as they possibly can, and that plays into how many people can we actually physically get into the complex, into the course and give them that experience. And so there's a lot of work being done on that we haven't concluded yet," he said.

"I think there will be also a lot of Americans there, especially for the first time. I think it could be a big crowd. And if Rory keeps playing well, it'll be an even bigger crowd."

Last year's Open at Royal Birkdale, won by American Jordan Spieth, attracted record crowds for an Open on English soil with 235,000 people attending during tournament week which includes the practice days. It was the third highest ever, falling shy of the St Andrews Opens of 2000 (239,000) and 2015 (237,000).

Work is continuing apace at Royal Portrush to install the infrastructure needed to host the event next July which is set to include daily seating for approximately 20,000 spectators.

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