Falling to a rare missed cut did not prove the most notable aspect of Rory McIlroy’s Scottish Open on Friday. Before the Northern Irishman had struck a shot in his second round, security had to eject a spectator who brazenly removed a club from McIlroy’s bag on the 10th tee, which was his 1st.
McIlroy, his caddie Harry Diamond and Jon Rahm, one of his playing partners, were visibly bemused as the individual strode inside the ropes. Having failed to pull the driver from McIlroy’s bag – only its head cover came free – he instead took an iron and proceeded to walk to a corner of the tee. After taking a couple of swings, the spectator was approached by the tournament starter who politely asked that he return to the gallery. Security soon appeared to take matters one step further. McIlroy, it must be noted, looked completely untroubled by the affair.
“It was a surprise, yes, but it was handled efficiently and everything’s OK,” McIlroy said after signing for a level-par 71. “I had no idea who he was. Again, it was handled quickly and that was the end of it.”
A spokesperson for the European Tour said: “At approximately 8am on Friday morning, a spectator entered the 10th tee area. He was quickly escorted from the tee by security personnel and the matter is now in the hands of Police Scotland.”
A Police Scotland spokesperson added: “Officers were alerted to a man causing a disturbance within the grounds of the Renaissance Club in East Lothian, around 8am on Friday 9 July. The 35-year-old man has been taken to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and enquiries are ongoing.”
The incident will inevitably cause a degree of embarrassment at the European Tour, given around 4,000 spectators were given special dispensation to attend amid the easing of coronavirus restrictions. Players and caddies must operate within strict bubble guidelines. Nonetheless, no harm was caused and it is difficult to foresee what reasonably could have been done to prevent this episode from taking place.
Rahm said: “It was early and there are some areas people can try to exploit. For the most part, the Scottish people love the game of golf, they would never try to do things like that. He probably thought it was a fun idea. To be fair, it was quite funny.
“Security was good but these things can happen. He had good timing. He walked in very confidently. We were all thinking: ‘Maybe he is supposed to be here.’ We didn’t know. Rory and I both thought it was a prank or someone who was supposed to be there. We had three or four security guys with us. Two walk with us, and they did what they have to do. Rory started playing beautifully. It didn’t put anyone off.”
Still, McIlroy’s one-under-par aggregate meant final preparation for next week’s Open Championship in Kent was restricted to 36 competitive holes. Rahm, the world No 1, has no such troubles after he added a 65 to day one’s 66. The Spaniard played his front half in just 29. “I think everything can get a little better,” warned Rahm.
Justin Thomas is three adrift of Rahm after a 69. Ian Poulter’s 68 meant he joined Thomas at minus eight.
“I think my game is in good shape,” said Poulter. “I’m hitting a lot of decent shots, giving myself plenty of chances. I like coming to play links golf and to have a little warmer for probably a sterner test next week, thicker rough, fairways lined with bunkers, bouncier fairways. It’s good to get a bit of early prep in and kind of just feel your way into next week.”