Showman Rory to thrill again

From Brian Keogh at Vilamoura

Showman Rory McIlroy has vowed not to cage his attacking instincts as he chases his Valderrama dream in the Portugal Masters.

The Holywood teenager, 18, will be guaranteed a place in the season-ending Volvo Masters if he finishes first or second this week.

And while he has until February 18 next year to become the youngest winner in the history of the European Tour, he believes his desire to entertain the crowds can inspire him to the €500,000 top prize this week.

With his tour card in the bag after just three pro starts, McIlroy said: “I love playing in front of huge galleries and I think it spurs you on as well. It’s not that you want to show off but you like to show what you can do.

“My main goal for the week is to try and get into the Volvo Masters and if I can do that it would be a great end to the season.

“Obviously I’m hoping for a top two finish but I don’t think that puts too much pressure on me.

“I know myself and I know I’m playing well, so I am just going to try and do the same thing I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks.”

McIlroy secured his tour card with a brilliant birdie-birdie finish in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews two weeks ago but needs another €185,000 to make the top 60 money winners who qualify for Valderrama.

His risky 195-yard six iron to eight feet at the Road Hole 17th, followed by a sand wedge to two feet at the 18th showed that he thrives under pressure.

And while he knows when to play safe and when to attack, his natural instinct is to go for his shots and give the galleries a thrill.

He’s sworn not to change that strategy as he takes on a field that includes two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, Order of Merit chasing Justin Rose and four members of Europe’s 2006 Ryder Cup team.

He’s got nothing to fear from any of them either after finishing third at St Andrews and tied fourth in last week’s Madrid Open.

Ranked eighth in the Ryder Cup qualifying race and sixth favourite this week, he’s also ahead of the likes of Darren Clarke and David Howell in the Order of Merit with €260,030.

But none of that matters to the Ulster teenager, who just wants to go out and see how far his game can take him.

McIlroy said: “I don’t have a look at a shot and say, oh, I might lose money and Ryder Cup points.

“I think I play aggressively, but also smartly. I don’t do anything out there that’s stupid. I know what I can do with a golf club.”

Then he added: “I’m not going out to model myself on anyone. I’m going out to be Rory McIlroy and see what I can do.”

Ryder Cup points are not on McIlroy’s mind, despite the fact that he is rated a 2-1 shot by the bookmakers to make Nick Faldo’s side next year.

He said: “If I play well next year, you never know what can happen. But I’m just trying to put it to the back of my mind at the minute and trying to play golf.

“I’m not trying to go out and make the Ryder Cup team next year. That’s not a huge goal of mine because I have 20 more years to play Ryder Cups. I just want to go out and play.

“I feel the pressure I put on myself to perform well. I wouldn’t say I don’t care what other people think, but as long as I am happy with where I’m at with my game and what I’m doing, that’s all that matters to me.”

World No 12 Rose knows what it’s like to be a teenage superstar after finishing fourth in the Open at just 17 before going on to miss his first 21 cuts as a pro.

But he warned: “You could start to talk about Ryder Cups and put pressure on yourself. But my advice to Rory would be to stay away from that and keep it simple and keep improving.”