McIlroy hailed as next Sergio Garcia

By Brian Keogh

Swashbuckling Rory McIlroy has been hailed as the next Sergio Garcia by Walker Cup skipper Colin Dalgleish.

And the Scot believes that when the Americans arrive at Royal County Down in September, the whole world will know all about the Holywood wonderkid.

The first time Dalgleish set eyes on McIlroy, the Ulster ace holed out from 150 yards for an eagle two at Royal Lytham's third hole.

That was just 12 months ago and Dalgleish believes the reigning European Amateur champion matured even more and has the talent and the charisma to lead GB&I to yet another Walker Cup triumph.

As he prepared to watch McIlroy and 12 of his 23-man Walker Cup squad in this week's AIB Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin, Dalgleish hailed the Irish star as a similar talent to Spanish wonderboy Garica.

Recalling McIlroy's introductory eagle, he said: "I knew who he was but that was the very first shot I saw him hit. Amazing.

"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."

McIlroy will be the favourite to win the Irish Amateur this week against a top class field that includes last week’s Lytham Trophy winner Lloyd Saltman and US Amateur champion Richie Ramsay.

And while Dalgleish, 46, knows that one player won't win the Walker Cup single-handedly, he admits that an in-form McIlroy could make all the difference.

Dalgleish said: "The most impressive thing about Rory is the flair with which he plays the game, the shots he sees that maybe others don't. 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.

"That extraordinary talent that Rory has just coincides with the fact that the Walker Cup will be played right here in Ireland. It is quite remarkable.

"He is just very relaxed with everybody from ten year olds to 80 year olds and his family makes sure his feet stay firmly on the ground."

McIlroy was controversially left out of the 2005 Walker Cup team but Dalgleish hinted that he is a lock this time around along with Saltman, Ramsay, Gary Wolstenholme, Nigel Edwards and Rhys Davies.

The other four spots on the side are still up for grabs and this week's Irish Amateur Open is just one of a series of top flight summer events that the selectors will be watching closely.

Saltman, McIlroy and big hitting South African Branden Grace have been drawn in a high profile threeball for the first two rounds at new-look Royal Dublin.

But 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.

Ulsterman Gareth Shaw is away in college in the US while Dunmurry's Darren Crowe, who was second when Ramsay won the title at Carton House in 2005, has pulled out through injury.

But McIlroy knows that he will have to play his best to see off a top class field around a 7,268-yard links track that has undergone a €5 million renovation by Martin Hawtree.

McIlroy said: "Most of the Walker Cup squad is over as well as a few very good South Africans so it is going to be a great week and I'd love to win."

Ramsay will be joined by former European Tour pro Eoghan O'Connell and Welsh Walker Cup veteran Edwards as the championship makes its return to Royal Dublin after a three-year absence.

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 field includes 13 of the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad with Scots Ramsay, Saltman, Kelvin McAlpine, Keir McNicholl, Glenn Campbell, Scott McHenry and Paul O’Hara joined by Irish aces McIlroy, Ward and Caldwell.

None of the English Walker Cup players are in Dublin due to a clashing fixture with France, but Welshmen Edwards, Lewellyn Matthews and Zack Gould will tee it up at Royal Dublin as well as some of Ireland's young guns.