Rory McIlroy is center of attention as Open begins

RoryMcIlroy-Thur1-Brit_450x600 SANDWICH, England — It's not often that Ian Poulter and Paul Casey are demoted to the undercard in their native England. But make no mistake about it, the headliner at Royal St. George's this morning was not in Poulter's 8:42 group or Casey's 8:58 group.   As Rory McIlroy walked from the practice green through the crowd to the first tee for his 9:09 start, a chorus of “Go Rory” rose through the damp, chilly air.   Ivor Robson, the famous Open Championship starter whose sing-song introduction of the players has become a tournament tradition, beamed as he shook Rory's hand for what seemed like hours. His eyes looked like a teenage girl's gazing at Justin Bieber.   At the same time, a mob of teenagers galloped across the nearby 18th fairway hoping to get a glimpse of McIlroy. Never mind that the Northern Irishman was playing with 2002 winner Ernie Els or American heartthrob Rickie Fowler. On Thursday they were just an aging South African and a kid in an oversized black cap.   After McIlroy, Els and Fowler hit their tee shots and started walking down the fairway, the grandstands started to empty. The fans who had been standing 10-deep along the ropes started marching down the fairway.   Moments later Sergio Garcia walked to the first tee and was greeted with cheers from the much smaller audience. Shouts of "Luuuuke" signaled that Luke Donald, the game's No. 1 player and another Englishman, was arriving.   But the most popular story in Europe that doesn't involve Rupert Murdoch was already moving on, and so were most of the fans. (Photo by Robert Beck/SI)

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by Kevin Cunningham