Irish teen sets sights on Ryder Cup

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2007, 12:00am

McIlroy sees Fanling as place to take next step on the road to stardom

Irish teenage sensation Rory McIlroy has grand ambitions. Today he sets out on a quest for his first professional tournament win and hopefully a place in the 2008 European Ryder Cup team.

The 18-year-old from Holywood in Northern Ireland made a sensational start to his professional career in September by making the cut in his first event and then finishing joint third in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland early last month to virtually secure his playing card for the 2008 PGA European Tour season.

Two weeks later McIlroy was joint leader of the Madrid Open midway through the final round, and ended up tied fourth to earn a cheque for more than Euro40,000 (HK$454,000). He finished the 2007 season with a ranking of 95 from his four starts and winnings of more than Euro277,000.

Winning tournaments is McIlroy's only goal, and this week he stands a good chance to win or place highly in the 144-man UBS Hong Kong Open field, as he has played the Fanling course several times.

'I'm looking forward to the challenge,' said McIlroy after playing in yesterday's pro-am event. 'My goal for the 2008 season is to win a tournament as quickly as possible and to qualify for the European Ryder Cup team. This would be a good week to get my first win.

'Sergio Garcia is the only one to have qualified for the Ryder Cup in his rookie season, and I want to be the second.'

McIlroy's last team performance came in the Walker Cup at Royal Portrush near his home in Northern Ireland, but it did not work out the way he would have liked, as the Great Britain and Ireland team narrowly went down to the Americans by a score of 121/2 to 111/2.

'My plans were always to turn pro after the Walker Cup, so I was very disappointed with the end result,' said McIlroy, who won one match, lost two and halved one, and who also shot a course record 61 over the Portrush course two years ago. 'I actually played OK, but in match-play you have to win the points.'

McIlroy admits to an attack of nerves before the Walker Cup, and also on the 18th green at Carnoustie in July when he was presented with the silver medal as the leading amateur in the British Open.

'That was quite a special moment in my life, it was certainly the highlight of the year, being presented with the leading amateur's medal while Padraig Harrington was presented with the Claret Jug,' said McIlroy, who was the only player in the elite field not to record a bogey in the opening round.

Much is now expected of the youngster, who was ranked as the leading amateur in the world before turning pro in September. Everybody in golf expects him to deliver - it's just a matter of time before he lifts his first pro trophy.

Fellow Irishman Harrington said after winning the open that he was glad to get his win before McIlroy got to it first.