By Brian Keogh
Rory McIlroy is a cast-iron certainty to make his Walker Cup debut at Royal County Down in September.
But Great Britain and Ireland skipper Colin Dalgleish will be keeping a close eye on the action in the AIB Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin over the next three days as he prepares to pick his 10-man side to face the Americans at the end of August.
No fewer than 13 of the 23-man Walker Cup panel will be in action on the renovated Royal Dublin links this week with McIlroy the narrow favourite ahead of recently crowned Lytham Trophy winner Lloyd Saltman and US Amateur champion Richie Ramsay.
Dalgleish hinted at Royal County Down on Tuesday that McIlroy, Saltman, Ramsay, Gary Wolstenholme, Nigel Edwards and Rhys Davies are all but assured of their places in his side.
And he admitted that McIlroy’s Sergio Garcia-style talent could make him the key man in Great Britain and Ireland’s bid for a fifth victory from seven attempts later this summer.
Dalgleish first set eyes on McIlroy during last year’s Lytham Trophy and the first shot he saw certainly got his attention as the Ulster wonderkid holed out from 150 yards for an eagle two at Royal Lytham's third hole.
"I knew who he was but that was the very first shot I saw him hit,” Dalgleish recalled. “He’s a Sergio Garcia-esque player on the course and he’s exciting to watch. I can understand how everybody in Ireland is already talking about him so much and slowly but surely people throughout mainland Britain and further afield will learn of Rory."
Dalgleish knows that one player won't win the Walker Cup single-handedly, but he admits that an in-form McIlroy could make all the difference.
"The most impressive thing about Rory is the flair with which he plays the game and the shots he sees that maybe others don't,” he added. “They way he plays the game is just very exciting. One guy isn't going to win the Walker Cup. But one guy can raise the excitement level and play a big part.”
Ireland's Simon Ward and Johnny Caldwell are also in the 23-man Walker Cup panel and will tee it up today with high hopes of making an impression on Dalgleish and his selectors.
Our fourth Walker Cup panellist, Ulsterman Gareth Shaw, is away in college in the US while 2005 Irish Amateur runner up Darren Crowe has withdrawn through injury.
The Championship has attracted a record 84 overseas players from thirteen countries with McIlroy the lowest handicapper in the field off plus 5.1.
The 120-strong field includes 13 of the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad and former professional Eoghan O'Connell though none of the English Walker Cup contingent, who have a clashing fixture with France.