Irish pair eye Costa collision
It's a funny old world! As the Queen of England stepped onto the sacred turf at Croke Park yesterday, two proud sons of Ulster were relishing the prospect of setting up a classic All-Ireland confrontation this weekend on the rain-doused Costa del Sol.
Ryder Cup partners and bosom buddies Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy could clash head-on for the first time on Saturday if, as expected, they emerge from their groups at the Volvo World Match Play Championships.
US Open winner McDowell swings into action this afternoon at Finca Cortesin in a mouth-watering showdown with British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.
The Portrush hero then faces Jhonnatan Vegas tomorrow afternoon, after the Venezuelan completes an early-morning battle with Oosthuizen.
McIlroy also faces a formidable South African opponent today in the shape of two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen. The Holywood youngster then takes on Belgium's recent Volvo China Open winner Nicolas Colsaerts in his second group match tomorrow.
The top two in each of the eight groups go through to the last 16, and with the winner of McDowell's section playing second in McIlroy's (and vice-versa) on Saturday morning for a spot in that afternoon's quarter-final, there's every chance that the two Northern Irishmen will collide.
"It's going to be great if we meet up against each other," said McIlroy. "As well as we know each other, it's funny to think both of us have never really been in contention together in the same tournament or played against each other."
The 22-year-old added with a smile: "Maybe there'll be a little side bet on the match."
McIlroy has had two weeks off since a disappointing defence of his Wells Fargo title but will play four out of the next five weeks leading up to the first round of the US Open at Congresssional on June 16.
He will feature in next week's flagship BMW PGA at Wentworth, the following week's Memorial in Ohio and will visit Congressional for practice rounds the week before the season's second Major.
McDowell plunged all the way from first place after 54 holes at The Players Championship into a share of 33rd as he shot 79 in Sunday's final round.
Yet the 31-year-old has shrugged off that final-day setback and instead insists he has drawn confidence from the quality of his overall performance at Sawgrass after six weeks of struggle.
McDowell has also been cheered by the selection this week of Le National course just outside Paris as venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup, especially in view of disquiet among players in the US over the quality of some of the courses chosen by Europe to host the event.
"I'm not going to mention any names but a couple of well-known American players have said to me that they are disappointed at the state of some of the golf courses when Europe are hosting the Ryder Cup," said McDowell. "They've been saying the poor state of the golf courses just detracts from the tournament. That's why I'm thrilled the Ryder Cup is going to such a quality venue in 2018. I'll be 40 but I'd dearly love to play."
As for this weekend, McDowell will have to see off five other members of golf's world top 10 if he's to claim the €800,000 winner's cheque on Sunday.
Luke Donald bids to complete a unique world match play double and replace Lee Westwood at No 1, while Martin Kaymer can also go back to the top of the world if he emerges as king of the Costa on Sunday.
Yet all Ireland will wait with bated breath for a potential mega-battle on Saturday between world No 5 McDowell and No 6 McIlroy.
World Match Play Championship
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