Tuesday 24 April 2018

McIlroy wants leading role in Ryder Cup drama

Dermot Gilleece

Golfing pals Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, want to be the partnership to launch Europe into action in pursuit of a Ryder Cup triumph at Celtic Manor on Friday.

"I want to be first off," said McIlroy, a 21-year-old rookie with seasoned ambitions. He also wants to lead the singles and "take down one of their top guys." In fact he would "love to play Tiger."

The two Northerners expect to be paired together, based on broad hints from European skipper, Colin Montgomerie, and their experience in the Vivendi Trophy 12 months ago when they won three points together at the top of the order. "Being first off carries that extra bit of pressure that I like," added McIlroy. "It's a role I'm used to from my amateur days."

If Montgomerie sees things the McIlroy way, it will mean even greater prominence for what is already unprecedented Irish involvement in the event. No fewer than eight Irishmen will have roles.

Apart from the three team members, there are caddies JP Fitzgerald (McIlroy), Ronan Flood (Pádraig Harrington) and Colin Byrne (Edoardo Molinari), while vice-captains, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke, are part of Monty's backroom team.

Fitzgerald caddied for McGinley in 2002 and Flood is facing his third Ryder Cup with Harrington. But it will be a new experience for Byrne, though he has been in three President's Cup matches, once with New Zealand's Greg Turner and twice with Retief Goosen.

"At Wentworth (last May), Monty came up to Rory and myself when we were playing a practice round together," recalled McDowell.

"In a reference to Rory's win at Quail Hollow a few weeks previously, Monty said 'that's one part of the pairing on the team'. And turning to me he said: 'Now you've got to get yourself on.'

"We're an obvious pairing. If we're both playing well next week, I don't see us not getting a game together at some point. It's a given."

As for Harrington, in the absence of a second Spaniard in the European side, he could find himself turning back the years in partnership with Miguel Angel Jimenez.

On the Dubliner's debut, they gained half a point together at Brookline in 1999 in first-day foursomes against Davis Love and Payne Stewart.

"Miguel is the only professional golfer who seems to be totally happy in his own skin," said Harrington. "No matter what you see on the outside, the rest of us have issues of trying to justify who we are. We all have our own insecurities and constantly need to keep proving ourselves. Not Miguel."

Appearing to take a leaf out of Woods's book, McIlroy initially described the Ryder Cup as an exhibition. And though he has since given it qualified approval, he added to the controversy last week by suggesting he would prefer to win a world championship event.

"I take that with a pinch of salt," said McDowell. "Of course Rory wants to win one of the biggest events in the world. Every player does. But I think his opinion may change when he gets out there next week."

See Page 7

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