It’s 90 minutes before he walks out in front of the packed grandstand at the 1st hole but Rory McIlroy is already hard at work.
The green that stands outside the Royal Troon clubhouse is the venue and the 2014 Open champion is wielding a putter – executing a rhythm that I am simply in awe of.
A putting mirror gives him the line and the Northern Irishman, clad in black, dispatches those Nike balls, in arrow fashion, into the hole.
Here’s the difference. You and I will practice our six to 10 footers as well, sending them on their way in hope more than expectation.
But McIlroy isn’t trying to find the centre of the cup. He’s picked a tiny mark – no more than a centimetre or so wide – on the very left edge.
The only time he misses that target, and the putt fails to take the lip and drop down out of view, is the last one.
From here, it’s a walk. Round the Royal Troon clubhouse, across the road and into the practice ground.
This place is a sight to behold, like a mini Open all of its own with big screens, snack stands and even a first aid tent.
It’s here where I truly realise what a goldfish bowl McIlroy’s life is. As he steps into the complex, over the bridge that takes him to his bay, there are hundreds of people following him. Some are even running.
The grandstand in front of the fleet of players going through their routines is packed. Their eyes are all trained on the 27-year-old.
When he leaves, a significant proportion of the stand empties in less than a minute.
It’s not only the eyes of the spectators that are trained on McIlroy. All the cameras are too. It’s feels rather claustrophobic and I don’t know if I could cope with the same attention. Rory takes it in his stride.
Pundits are ranked behind him, speculating about his shots as he works methodically from wedge through to driver. He’s in bay 13, one notes. Will it prove to be lucky?
It is a wonderful sight to see him in full flow. High shots, low, stingers, penetrative flights that steer through the wind, there doesn’t seem to be a shot he can’t execute.
— Formby Hall Academy (@FHgolfacademy) July 16, 2016
Rory’s first drive is a snorter and his numbers are all fired out to the waiting viewers, thanks to a big screen and a launch monitor, which clocks his speed and his ball flight.
For the stats hounds among you desperate to know – it’s a total drive of 332.3 yards, with 308.4 yards of carry, ball speed of 179mph, a launch angle of 11.5 degrees and height of 38.6 yards.
He carries on battering them down the line. There’s little chat with coach Michael Bannon and caddy JP Fitzgerald. It is all business.
25 minutes to tee time and it’s a walk to the chipping green. It’s a similar routine. The shots are high, they run low, check up and bounce on.
But it’s from the bunker where I find him most impressive.
— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) July 16, 2016
In rat-a-tat fashion Rory hits them without pausing for breath. Sticking one foot outside, simulating the kind of lie he might get in one of Royal Troon’s treacherous traps, he almost holes the most tricky of them.
Back to the clubhouse he then goes, through ever growing crowd – hollering, well-wishing, hoping for a nod or a signature – to where it all began.
The Royal Troon putting green.
There’s no mirror this time. It’s a process of feel but Rory’s now missing more than he holes.
Will it matter? He can’t do anything about it now. The first tee awaits and McIlroy will not be late.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 16, 2016