Rory McIlroy attracts enormous galleries at TPC Scottsdale for 2023 WM Phoenix Open

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For 18 holes Thursday afternoon, winding from the desert environment of the entrance 9 to the trademark stadium set-ups on the again, there was one fixed.

When Rory McIlroy stood to handle his ball, the iPhone cameras shot up, every claiming a number of inches of hard-fought actual property. When McIlroy completed, the iPhone cameras went again in pockets. If followers lingered lengthy sufficient to observe his taking part in companions — Collin Morikawa and Hideki Matsuyama — they solely did so for a short second earlier than repositioning themselves for McIlroy’s subsequent shot.

It didn’t matter that McIlroy completed his day 2 over, nor that he was paired with Morikawa, a two-time main champion and among the best younger gamers on this planet. The presence of Matsuyama, the 2016 and 2017 Phoenix Open winner, drew solely passing curiosity, too.

No, on Thursday, the followers had been right here for McIlroy.

In golf’s post-Tiger period, stardom has been ephemeral. Jordan Spieth’s profession has charted a wayward course. Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau emerged, retreated and now ply their commerce on the LIV Tour. Jon Rahm hasn’t, for no matter cause, captured the zeitgeist in the identical method. McIlroy, and solely McIlroy, has been the fixed. Irrespective of that he hasn’t received a significant since 2014. The followers come for McIlroy and so they’ll all the time come for McIlroy.

Simply take the couple that stood beside the fifth inexperienced Thursday, ready for McIlroy’s arrival. When a normal bearer’s signal revealed that every one three gamers’ scores, the spouse remarked, “Oh wow, they’re throughout par.” To which her husband responded, “It’s nonetheless Rory.”

Three holes later, a pair of followers wearing conventional Scottish golf knickers stood beside the eighth tee. The 2 associates had flown in from Nebraska and Texas searching for heat climate and a great time. They started their day on the sixteenth gap, however one in every of them counts McIlroy amongst his favourite gamers. So along with his day coming to an in depth, they positioned themselves by the tee field, regaling him with chants of “Let’s go Rory!”

“Why wouldn’t you be out right here and are available see some superb gamers,” mentioned Brian Schwabauer, the McIlroy fan.

For all of the off-course enchantment of the Phoenix Open, TPC Scottsdale has solely hosted this spectacle as soon as earlier than.

In 2021, with crowds restricted by COVID, McIlroy performed right here ending thirteenth at 13 beneath. Each different yr of his profession, he’s skipped the Phoenix Open, typically spending the winter portion of his season taking part in on different continents.

“I wouldn’t say that this can be a golf course that units up terribly effectively for me,” McIlroy mentioned. “I wrestle off the tee right here. I really feel like all the golf green bunkers are proper in my touchdown zone.”

This yr, although, McIlroy had little selection however to play the Phoenix Open. Final fall, the PGA Tour chosen the event as one in every of its designated occasions. The highest gamers can solely skip one — and all besides final month’s Sentry Match of Champions now boast purses of no less than $20 million and McIlroy selected to skip the Sentry.

So right here he’s, ushering in a brand new period of the Phoenix Open. Technically, the event might not hold its elevated standing after this yr however given its distinctive enchantment, that appears unlikely.

2023 WM Phoenix Open

2023 WM Phoenix Open

Rory McIlroy performs his tee shot on the eleventh gap in the course of the first spherical of the 2023 WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. (Picture: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports activities)

To see the influence on the fan expertise, all you needed to do Thursday was comply with McIlroy for a number of holes. Certain, there have been the chants. “I like you Rory” was a standard chorus. However the proof lay within the marauding move of the plenty.

The fourth inexperienced could be TPC Scottsdale’s most distant area. From the highest of a hill to its left, the sixteenth grandstand is seen above the horizon, however solely barely. 4 holes and a lake stand between No. 4 and the course’s star points of interest. However when McIlroy got here by, the hill stuffed up, standing shoulder to shoulder for a glimpse at their hero. And when he left, these followers scurried alongside, snatching up actual property on the fifth fairway. And so it went for 4 hours Thursday.

“I feel from a fan expertise, it’s actually good that the highest gamers are exhibiting up,” Xander Schauffele, who completed at 4 beneath, mentioned. “I’m a fan of golf. Clearly I don’t watch it as a lot as some folks do, however I’d wish to see the highest gamers hash it out each week.”

For the gamers, too, the elevated standing brings advantages. In fact, the primary one, as McIlroy laughed later, is that “I get an opportunity to win $3.6 million.” However having to play at an uncomfortable course now — two months earlier than the Masters will get main season underway — has worth, too.

“It’s a problem, and once more, I’m attempting to embrace that problem,” McIlroy mentioned. “Yeah, look, not an event I traditionally play, however I really feel like I’m a ok participant to determine it out and contend and win on any golf course.”

A gaggle later, Schauffele provided the other expertise to McIlroy’s. He performs the Phoenix Open yearly and succeeds right here, too. In 5 Phoenix Opens, he has 5 top-20s and two top-threes. A veteran of the desert panorama.

That perspective was sufficient to acknowledge a distinction within the set-up this go-around. Thursday’s wind was out of organizers’ management. The “difficult” pin places — as Schauffele described them — weren’t.

“I don’t thoughts,” Schauffele mentioned. “You simply don’t count on it coming right here.”

Story initially appeared on GolfWeek

Leave a Reply