McIlroy wins European Amateur and Open place

Rory McIlroy pulled off the Italian Job to secure his first start in a major at Carnoustie next year.

The Holywood star, 17, cruised to a three-shot win in the European Individual Championship at Biella Golf Club near Milan on Saturday.

And that earned him a priceless invite for next year's Open at Carnoustie - making him Ireland's youngest major starter since a 16-year-old Ronan Rafferty played at Muirfield in 1980.

He beamed: "It's great I can't believe it. Playing the Open next year is going to be really nice. To play the way I did and the way I won it was unbelievable.

"It's really nice. It's my first really big one outside of Ireland. It's a really special feeling to know I am in the Open next year.

"The Open place was on my mind all day. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. I kept thinking about it but I had to snap myself out of it and concentrate on playing one hole at a time."

The joint first round leader, McIlroy grabbed the outright lead after the second round and was never headed after that in a wire-to-wire victory.

McIlroy came under pressure when runner up Stephen Lewton on England got to within a shot of him with five to play.

But the Ulster starlet responded by grabbing birdies at three of the last four holes to finish three-clear on 18 under par thanks to a closing five under par 68.

He also emulated PGA Tour stars Sergio Garcia and Carl Pettersson as winners of the title and became the fourth Irishman to take the gold medal in the space of eight years following wins by Paddy Gribben (1998), Stephen Browne (2000) and Brian McElhinney (2003).

The winner of the Irish Close and West of Ireland for the last two year, McIlroy had yet to win overseas until Saturday.

And his win should now make him an almost automatic Walker Cup starter at Royal County Down next year.

He added: "To play in the Open I have to stay amateur and there is no way I am turning professional because the Walker Cup is top of my goal list next year.

"This will help me towards that goal and I'll also get a lot of points in the World Amateur rankings. It's nice.

"It's unofficial at the moment. I'll probably be in the top three after this week."

While he has two domestic matchplay titles to his name this year, McIlroy's biggest strokeplay win came in the Mullingar Scratch Cup a few weeks ago.

He  was beaten in a play-off for the Irish Amateur Open in May and was third in the Lytham Trophy, fourth in the Sherry Cup and eighth in the Brabazon Trophy.

He will tee it up for Great Britain and Ireland in this week's St Andrews Trophy match against Europe in the Czech Republic before leading Ireland in the Home Internationals and the Eisenhower Trophy.