Hosting Open 'speaks volumes' for Northern Ireland, says McIlroy

Portrush (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday that Northern Ireland hosting the British Open for the first time since 1951 this week "speaks volumes" for how much it has changed since The Troubles.

The 148th edition of golf's oldest major will be the biggest sporting event held in Northern Ireland, with 237,750 people expected to attend across the week.

"Sport has an unbelievable ability to bring people together. We all know that this country sometimes needs that," said Northern Irishman McIlroy, who was only eight years old when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

"It's amazing to think 40 years on it's such a great place, no one cares who they are, where they're from, what background they're from, but you can have a great life and it doesn't matter what side of the street you come from.

"To be able to have this tournament here again, I think it speaks volumes of where the country and where the people that live here are now.

"We're so far past that. And that's a wonderful thing."

McIlroy, a four-time major champion, will draw huge crowds when the tournament gets underway on Thursday.

"I think no matter what happens this week, if I win or whoever else wins, having the Open back in this country is a massive thing for golf," the 30-year-old added.

"And I think as well it will be a massive thing for the country."