Speaking after his two-over opening round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, world number one Rory McIlroy was asked about the anomalous atmosphere players experience at what has become the PGA Tour’s effective Superbowl tailgate party.
“I’m not in the crowd”, McIlroy said, “but I think if I wasn’t a player and I wanted to come to one PGA TOUR event, this would probably be the one that I’d want to come to.
“I was joking to Harry out there today, it’s like almost you get two free rounds at this because you can go out and just completely wing it, either shoot 63 or 80, and you know you’re going to have a good weekend regardless, either have a chance to win the tournament or you go and enjoy everything that this tournament has to offer if you don’t make the cut.”
Asked how this affects a player’s approach to their round, McIlroy felt that the atmosphere has little bearing on the actual shots hit. “Yeah, I mean, I think we’re so used to being in our own little routines on the golf course that like once you’re over your golf ball and you’re into your shot, I don’t think it’s much of a distraction, but obviously walking between shots and stuff, it’s pretty noisy. But it can go one of two ways. You can embrace it and try and enjoy it or try to shut yourself away and sort of look down on the ground and not make eye contact with anyone.
“I feel like I’m the first — I’ve tried to embrace it today, and obviously what we’re going to get tomorrow afternoon is going to be way rowdier than what we got this afternoon.”
McIlroy, making only his second start at the Phoenix Open, struggled to get any momentum going in the windy conditions, with his driving – usually one of his main strengths – errant throughout as he hit just four of 14 fairways.
“Yeah, look, I wouldn’t say that this is a golf course that sets up terribly well for me,” he explained. “I struggle off the tee here. I feel like all the fairway bunkers are right in my landing zones. But it’s a challenge, and again, like I’m trying to embrace that challenge. Yeah, look, not an event I historically play, but I feel like I’m a good enough player to figure it out and contend and win on any golf course.”
This was McIlroy’s first start on US soil in 2023, and his first of the PGA Tour’s new ‘designated events’ which offer elevated purses and are mandatory for the top 20 recipients on the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program listings. Having opted to use his one ‘bye’ at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in early January, McIlroy is now guaranteed to tee it up in the remaining 10 elevated events this year.
Asked about whether he felt that designated events should be played on traditionally harder golf courses that regular season events, McIlroy felt that a balance was required, and that it was the weather rather than the set up that made scoring difficult in Phoenix.
“I mean, I think every golf course that a tournament professional should play should be a challenge,” he replied. “This obviously was challenging today because of the conditions. When you get your normal conditions at this golf course and it’s flat calm, obviously you can shoot some scores. I certainly wouldn’t want designated events to feel like a U.S. Open every week.”
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