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Northern Ireland crowd will make The Open very exciting, says Thomas

Looking ahead: Justin Thomas is delighted to be in Portrush
Looking ahead: Justin Thomas is delighted to be in Portrush

By Phil Casey

Former world number one Justin Thomas has been taken aback by the Northern Ireland hospitality ahead of the Open Championship and plans to take advantage of even more from Rory McIlroy.

The game's oldest Major is being staged at Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951 and has generated enormous excitement, with tickets for the championship days selling out in record time and more than 200,000 fans set to attend over the week.

"I had somewhat of an idea of what a big deal it is but I think I probably don't respect it or understand it enough," Thomas said. "It's been how many years? 68 years. That's unbelievable.

"I don't know what to expect but I also have an idea of what the crowds might be like the first couple of days. It will probably be pretty berserk out there.

"It's just cool because you feel so gracious to be here. Everyone is saying, 'Thanks for coming here'. Like what else would I do? It's the Open Championship. What, am I going to skip it?"

Thomas played at Royal County Down in the 2012 Palmer Cup, a team competition between the best college golfers from Europe and the US, but has planned a practice round with course-record holder McIlroy as he tries to get to grips with Portrush.

"I asked him about a month-and-a-half ago because I knew that he was probably getting pulled in a lot of different directions and getting asked to play," the 2017 US PGA champion added.

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"Rory is someone I'm a little bit closer with and play a lot of practice rounds with. I'm sure he'll give some advice but kind of hold it somewhat within, not wanting to give too much.

"But at the end of the day, no matter how much local knowledge you have, you still have to hit the golf shot."

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