HOYLAKE, England -- Clear skies. McILROY stamped on top of the leaderboard. Put them together and it added up to big crowds at the British Open.
In fact, attendance blew away the gallery that witnessed Phil Mickelson’s victory last year.
On Sunday at Royal Liverpool, 42,149 people passed through the gates, a 31 percent spike from the final round at Muirfield in 2013. For the week, the Open drew 202,917, a 30 percent jump from last year’s 142,036.
Fans around the course said McIlroy was a big factor in choosing to attend the final day of competition.
“It’s a very big historical event and I think there’s a lot of extra buzz,” said Tom Beirne, 60, of nearby Wigan. “In this part of England there’s a lot of Irish, and anything that’s UK we support it really good.”
“Rory’s an icon -- he inspires my kids to play better,” said Catherine Hakner of East Yorkshire, who drove two hours and plunked down 75 pounds (about $130) per ticket so her 7-year-old son, Oliver, could see his favorite golfer. “Whatever Rory wears, he’ll wear. And he’ll want to play golf as soon as he’s done watching.”
Attendance this year was down slightly from 2006 when the event was last staged in Hoylake and Tiger Woods won. Attendance surprisingly tanked last year at Muirfield, thanks in part to a rise in ticket prices, a weak economy and a heat wave. Ticket prices were not changed his year, but one day after Saturday’s ominous forecast kept some fans away, many were happy to get out and enjoy a warm sunny Sunday.
“We were going to come yesterday, but because of the bad weather we didn’t,” said Chris Eanshaw, who drove 140 miles from York to see Sunday’s round. “Today we were determined to go just to have a nice day.”
“It’s the advantage of living locally -- you can pick you day,” added Adrian Walsh, who lives just a short walk from the course. “We’re fans of Rory, but also just golf fans.”
At times the big crowds were almost more than security could handle. McIlroy had a heckler tossed after teeing off on the 16th hole. Fans were spotted doing somersaults on the 6th green after play had cleared. Smartphone photography was rampant, despite a no-picture policy.
Not coincidentally, the on-course taverns were slammed all afternoon.
“It’s hard to say if the fans are for Rory or Sergio. There are a lot of mixed nationals kicking around here,” said Chris Jordan, a manager at The Perfect Round, one of the largest bars in Royal Liverpool’s central hospitality area. Jordan said that through Saturday the Open had sold around 90,000 pints. On Sunday afternoon the beer count skyrocketed by the minute.
“Today’s number will be massive,” he said.