By Brian Keogh
Rory McIlroy has revealed that he turned down TWO invites from Tiger Woods to concentrate on making the Ryder Cup team.
The Holywood hotshot, 18, was stunned to receive an invite from Woods to play in next month's Target World Challenge AND the AT&T National next July.
But with the Tiger-run AT&T event clashing with the yet-to-be-confirmed European Open, McIlroy has decided to concentrate on the race to Valhalla and racking up his first win.
That quest starts in Hong Kong this week and McIlroy can't wait to get going alongside Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley, Damien McGrane and Gary Murphy.
He said: "If I could win soon it is going to get me well up the points list and if that happens, it's a big possibility to breaking into the team.
"It's certainly feasible and it's not unrealistic setting that as a goal, and besides a win or a couple of good results like I had in the Dunhill and Madrid and I'm up there.
"I don't think for a moment it is aiming too high because it is well within my capability.
"I will be teeing-up each Thursday of my career seeking to win the golf tournament, and just like every other guy out here if I didn't have that belief than I am wasting my time.
"I will be going out with the mindset that I am good, and as good or it not better than all these guys out here, and that's the mindset you have to adopt that I am good enough to win out here. That's all I am thinking about."
Reflecting on his 'no' to Woods, McIlroy confessed that he had to think long and hard about his decision.
He said: "The invite came right out of the blue and it was fantastic to get an invite from the organisers of Tiger's event to compete in the Target World Challenge.
"I was thrilled that they would want to invite me considering I'm only just starting out on my career.
"But if I play in his event next month, I would also have to play in the AT&T event in Washington next July that Tiger also hosts.
"That event clashes with the European Open and I just thought I would be very stupid of me not to play in the European Open.
"It was hard to say 'no' but we've written to the organisers explaining the predicament I'm in, and besides I should have 30 more years to compete in Tiger's event, so I we had to politely decline.
"It would have been a great way to end the year but at the end of the day, I have to focus first on my schedule and try and stick to that."
McIlroy will play the Australian Masters in Melbourne next week and decided to finish up the year in the South African Open from December 13.
And he confessed that he will be really disappointed if he finishes the 52-event 2008 European Tour season without a win.
The 2008 Ryder Cup is a massive goal for the young Ulster kid, who grabbed his tour card after just two European Tour starts when he finished third in the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews last month.
Confident he can go well at Hong Kong's Fanling, a course he knows well after trips there to play in the Faldo Junior Series, McIlroy believes this could be his week.
He said: "I really do know the golf course very well and that's a big plus because I feel very comfortable with my knowledge of the course
"The main goal being here is to set about winning my first Tour event. I would love to win and win soon, and apart from that I just want to go out and play tournaments and see how I perform.
"I am backing myself to do well and I would be disappointed if at the end of 2008 if I haven't won a tournament.
"So the sooner the better is how I am looking at it and if I do win early, hopefully I could kick to win a couple more.
"I still feel like the new guy on the Tour but it was a big weight off my shoulders knowing that I secured my card without having to go to Q-School.
"I could easily be down at San Roque this week or sitting at home and planning a 2008 season on the Challenge Tour but I'm not. I'm on the European Tour proper and I am out here to win.
"And there's no point, even in this my first event of 2008, trying to think about earning enough to retain my card or to be trying to get into the top-60 or whatever.
"So I will be out competing and trying to win every event I play and having played so many Tour events before turning pro, I know what to expect and I know so many of the guys out here, and I know what I am doing.
"That's half the battle out here as a rookie pro, and that's feeling comfortable out here in your new environment and I've heard people say that I have a old head on young shoulders, and I agree with that totally."
McIlroy will play three events before the end of the year and the resume in January with the Gulf Swing before taking February off.
After that he's off to Malaysia, South Korea and Spain before heading back to Asia in April for two events in China.
He added: "I am going to be doing a bit of travelling early on but I won't be playing that many events but overall I will be keeping my schedule down to 25 at the most.
"Although I am going to try and qualify for both the US Open and The Open. There's much to look forward to and I am really looking forward to getting going this week in Hong Kong."