By Brian Keogh
Rory McIlroy wants to erase the disappointment of last week’s Estoril Portuguese Open by claiming an historic hat-trick of West of Ireland Championship titles at Rosses Point.
The 17-year-old from Holywood begins his defence of the Radisson SAS sponsored classic with the first of two strokeplay qualifying rounds at pristine County Sligo Golf Club today.
And he is determined to put a missed cut in Portugal to the back of his mind and become the first player since the legendary Joe Carr in 1962 to win the West of Ireland three times in a row.
"Portugal was a big disappointment, especially after winning in Spain the week before,” said McIlroy, who missed the cut by five shots after rounds of 79 and 72. "It was just really windy and the greens were terrible - I couldn't understand how they could hold a tour event on greens that bad.
"I shot a good 72 in the second round but the damage was already done. Fair play to Pablo Martin for a fantastic victory. But I am just looking forward to the West now and the great crowds they always get there."
After his victories in 2005 and 2006, the world’s second ranked amateur is the red-hot favourite to be the last man standing at Rosses Point next Tuesday evening.
And while he's hoping he can avoid Irish team mates such as Simon Ward, Niall Kearney and Shane Lowry for as long as possible, he knows he must beat everyone in his path to lift the title again.
"The first thing is to qualify for the matchplay stages with a couple of good rounds on Friday and Saturday,” McIlroy added. “After that you have to take it one match at a time and if I'm still around, I'm sure I'll see someone like Shane, Niall or Simon in the quarter-finals.
"I played this afternoon and the course is in perfect condition though it's not running as fast as people are making out. The rough is down, there is no wind so far and the weather is perfect. Hopefully it can stay this way."
Massive crowds are expected to watch McIlroy's hat-trick bid and see him at close quarters before he turns professional after an expected Walker Cup debut at Royal County Down in September.
The leading 64 competitors after two strokeplay qualifying rounds will go into the matchplay draw tomorrow night with the semi-finals and final set for Tuesday.