Rory McIlroy

McIlroy relishing fans’ return in Phoenix

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McIlroy says he is World number six McIlroy says competing without fans felt like “playing a practice round”Rory McIlroy says he is relishing the chance to play in front of spectators after admitting that competing behind closed doors felt “casual”.

McIlroy is in action at this week’s Phoenix Open with 5,000 people allowed at TPC Scottsdale each day.

“It’s sort of like playing a practice round,” said the world number six of competing during the global pandemic.

“I play way better on Tour than I do at home because I have something to focus me.

“I think sometimes the most difficult thing for me without having fans is just sometimes it just felt so casual.”

The four-time major winner added: “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 is coming off the back of successive Sunday disappointments at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, where he surrendered the overnight lead to finish third, and the Farmers Insurance Open in California, where he was cleared by the PGA Tour of any wrongdoing after taking a free drop for an embedded ball during his third round.

Farmers Insurance Open winner Patrick Reed was involved in a similar situation in which the American moved his ball before calling a rules official.

While Reed carded an impressive four-under-par final-round 68 to win by five strokes, McIlroy’s challenge faded as he stumbled to a closing 73 and a tie for 16th.

McIlroy has failed to mount a final-day charge on his last two outings in Abu Dhabi and CaliforniaMcIlroy has failed to mount a final-day charge on his last two outings in Abu Dhabi and California

However, the 2019 PGA Tour player of the year believes he can feed off the crowd’s energy in Arizona this week at a tournament renowned for its raucous atmosphere.

“It’s going to be gradual, I don’t think anything’s going to be at capacity or 100% for a while, but the fact that Phoenix is going to have 5,000, I think it’s a good thing,” added McIlroy, who is making his Phoenix Open debut in the middle of a busy run of seven tournaments in an eight-week stretch.

“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 will partner world number four Xander Schauffele – one of five joint runners-up to Reed at Torrey Pines – and Daniel Berger in the first two rounds in Phoenix.

Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and defending champion Webb Simpson are also among a strong field.

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