Golf

Rory McIlroy relishing return of fans at Phoenix Open

Rory McIlroy in action during the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines.

Rory McIlroy is excited about the return of fans to PGA Tour events as he prepares to make his debut in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Around 5,000 people per day will be allowed at TPC Scottsdale, with 2,000 permitted around the famous par-three 16th at any one time.

Those figures are way down on the 16,000 usually creating a raucous atmosphere at the 16th or the overall attendance record of 719,179 in 2019, but McIlroy feels it is a welcome step as golf continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'm looking forward to welcoming fans back," McIlroy said. "It's going to be gradual, I don't think anything's going to be at capacity or 100 per cent for a while, but the fact that Phoenix is going to have 5,000… I think it's a good thing.

"Sometimes you have a pin that's tucked behind a bunker or something, you can't see the bottom of it and you think you've hit a good shot but you have no idea where the ball is.

"It will actually be nice to just have a reaction, to get a clap or not get a clap or whatever, so that will be nice."

McIlroy was on a run of seven consecutive top-five finishes when golf shut down last year due to the pandemic, but admitted he struggled to deal with the lack of spectators when tournaments resumed behind closed doors.

"I think sometimes the most difficult thing for me without having fans is just sometimes it just felt so casual," added the former world number one, who is without a win since November 2019.

"You're just out there playing and it's sort of just like playing a practice round. That's been the thing that I've had to get used to, because I play way better on Tour than I do at home because I have something to focus me.

"The pro-ams I've played on Wednesdays, my pro-am partners are probably like, 'How has this guy been the best player in the world?' because you don't have that competitiveness going to bring the best out of yourself.

"As it went on we got used to it and it's sort of the norm now, but I'm definitely one that's in the camp of welcoming fans back and being excited about it."

McIlroy will partner Xander Schauffele and Daniel Berger in the first two rounds in Phoenix, where Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and defending champion Webb Simpson are among a strong field.

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