The Northern Irishman is relishing the chance to win his fifth major in front of fans, even ones who make "stupid comments"

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Rory McIlroy: “I love the mashed potato guys again”

Having played in front of “thousands of people” from the age of 16, Rory McIlroy is delighted fans are back to create the sort of atmosphere that makes elite-level sport what it is.

It’s no coincidence the Northern Irishman broke an 18-month winless drought at Quail Hollow with a gallery of support, and he can expect the same at this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, where 10,000 fans per day will be in attendance.

“Yeah, it’s funny, ever since I was 16 years old I’ve had thousands of people watch me play golf pretty much every time I teed it up,” said McIlroy at his pre-tournament press conference. 

“Even going back to amateur golf and so then not having that, playing in that environment for 14, 15 years and then sort of going the complete opposite, it’s just different.

“It was like playing practice rounds. It’s easy to lose concentration. Everyone is used to a certain environment, whether you work or whatever you do. 

“I watched the Champions League semi-finals a couple weeks ago and those guys play in that for the first time in their careers and they’re playing in an empty stadium. I mean, that just must be terrible. 

“That’s not at all how you dream of being in a squad like that and playing in a massive game. You want to play in front of people and you want to feel that atmosphere. 

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“It’s unfortunate that in these times a lot of people don’t have that experience, but I am glad that we’re getting back to some sort of normalcy, and when you hit good shots and hole putts there are claps and rewards and encouragement. 

“I feel like that’s all a part of tournament golf and competitive sports at the highest level, and just happy that I’m starting to come back.

“Yeah, love the mashed potatoes guys again. I don’t even care about the stupid comments. I’m just glad that everyone is back here.”

McIlroy won this tournament the last time it was held on the South Carolina layout in 2012, and although he has fond memories of the course, the 32-year-old doesn’t think this gives him any significant advantage entering the year’s second major. 

He added: “I played great here last time, obviously, and won my first PGA and my second major, but just because I did that doesn’t mean that I’m going to find it any easier this week than anyone else.

“It’s a really tough test, especially when the wind is blowing like this. Those last few holes out there are brutal. It’s going to be a great test. 

“But yeah, look, I’ve maybe got some better memories and better vibes here than most of the other guys do, and that’s obviously nice, but not sure it’s going to enable me to play any better. 

“It is nice to be back.”

McIlroy gets his bid for a fifth major title and first in seven years underway alongside Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas.

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