Rory Brings The Noise In Phoenix As He Proves He's The Biggest Star In Golf

Following Rory McIlroy at the Phoenix Open showed what a huge draw he is with bumper crowds following golf's big star

Rory McIlroy at the Phoenix Open
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s not a surprising statement to say that Rory McIlroy is a popular golfer, but watching him up close in the most American event, on American soil, it’s still an eye-opener to see the man from Northern Ireland looking like the biggest draw at the WM Phoenix Open.

Those on the other side of the Atlantic perhaps underestimate at times just how popular the four-time Major champion is in the United States – we’ll never have another Tiger Woods but Rory is right up there in terms of moving the needle, as they put it.

Tiger Woods is back next week of course, so McIlroy will take a back seat once again, but the GOAT is only part-time on the PGA Tour these days, and golf needs a regular stand-out star.

We know he’s a huge name within the game, with players, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour and, of course, us in the media, but that’s been taken to another level over the last 12 months as he’s also stood up to become the Tour’s main defender against the advances of LIV Golf.

All the while, McIlroy has been lighting it up on the golf course too, rising to World No.1, but regardless of the rankings all the evidence from TPC Scottsdale points to him being the number one with the fans.

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The WM Phoenix Open is an event like no other with a massive crowd, many of whom have no interest in golf. Most, though, will have heard of Rory McIlroy.

And despite bumper crowds throughout the golf course, following McIlroy is now the big ticket and he took throngs of adoring American public with him in the tournament, which was quite something to behold.

It’s a familiar sight to those that have been to a lot of golf, stood behind the ninth green it was quiet enough, but talk of McIlroy approaching caused a spark of excitement, followed by the arrival of one, two, then three cameras to the back of the putting surface.

The crowd grew, a few asking if they could see McIlroy way back on the tee. Judging by the number of people that had suddenly appeared at the other end of the hole, it was him. 

A lovely tee shot fired down the fairway saw the crowd then surging round either side of the hole, looking for the best vantage point for their hero’s second shot. His approach safely found the green which was, by now, packed with everyone cheering on Rory, even though he was playing with American two-time Major champion Collin Morikawa.

Rory McIlroy on the 16th of the Phoenix Open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This continued for hole after hole, with golf fans young and old searching for the best positions to watch McIlroy, with his every move, his every swing, his every putt accompanied by huge cheers and shouts of encouragement. Even the regulation pantomime boos he had on the 16th soon melted away.

Once McIlroy moves on from a hole, the crowd dissipates and returns to usual, the wave of excitement dying down again as the crowd then moves on to follow the man aptly from Holywood in Northern Ireland – as he’s become the box office star of the PGA Tour.

It was utterly predictable that McIlroy would be up there with the likes of Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in the popularity stakes, but hearing and seeing the sheer amount of love for him at first hand is still an eye opener.

With the likes of Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson gone from PGA Tour action, the 33-year-old is plugging that gap. He’s the A-Side, the Alpha on the circuit and, despite already being a global icon, his popularity is still growing – McIlroy won’t be able to match Tiger, nobody will, but he’s the closest we’ve got right now as golf’s biggest and brightest star attraction.

Paul Higham

Paul Higham is a sports journalist with over 20 years of experience in covering most major sporting events for both Sky Sports and BBC Sport. He is currently freelance and covers the golf majors on the BBC Sport website.  Highlights over the years include covering that epic Monday finish in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor and watching Rory McIlroy produce one of the most dominant Major wins at the 2011 US Open at Congressional. He also writes betting previews and still feels strangely proud of backing Danny Willett when he won the Masters in 2016 - Willett also praised his putting stroke during a media event before the Open at Hoylake. Favourite interviews he's conducted have been with McIlroy, Paul McGinley, Thomas Bjorn, Rickie Fowler and the enigma that is Victor Dubuisson. A big fan of watching any golf from any tour, sadly he spends more time writing about golf than playing these days with two young children, and as a big fair weather golfer claims playing in shorts is worth at least five shots. Being from Liverpool he loves the likes of Hoylake, Birkdale and the stretch of tracks along England's Golf Coast, but would say his favourite courses played are Kingsbarns and Portrush.