McIlroy targets Open silver

By Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy has set his sights on becoming Carnoustie's Silver Surfer on Sunday

The Holywood hotshot, 18, breezed round the beast they call Car-nasty for the first time and dubbed it Car-nicey.

And he likes the 7,400 yard track so much, he's determined to land the Silver Medal awarded to the leading amateur who makes the cut.

Drawn with Ryder Cup stars Henrik Stenson and Miguel Angel Jimenez for the first two rounds, the reigning European Amateur champion feels totally comfortable amongst the giants of the game.

After a practice round that featured four holes alongside his mentor Nick Faldo, he declared: "I played the full 18. It's nice. It's not too difficult. The rough isn't that bad.

"It's just a nice test of golf If you drive it well you are going to get rewarded."

The last time McIlroy saw Carnoustie in an Open was when he watched Paul Lawrie's 1999 victory from the world junior championships in San Diego.

He was only ten years old at the time and since that day he has gone on to win a string of titles around the world, including the European Team title with Ireland just last week.

With the Walker Cup and a professional career just months away, he's feeling more and more comfortable with the high pressure environment of the game's big events.

But he admits that compared to playing in the Dubai Desert Classic or the MasterCard Masters, playing inside the ropes at the Open is still a surreal experience.

Picking his targets for the week, he said: "It would be really nice to win the Silver Medal, especially around this sort of golf course. It is a great test and if you finish well you know you have played really well. It is just going to be a really good week for me.

"It is pretty cool to play in my first major. But it is sort of weird as well. People have always said to me: It is only going to be a matter of time before you play in the Open.

"But when you actually get there it is pretty surreal in a way. Instead of being outside the ropes looking in, you are inside looking out."

McIlroy's childhood memories of Lawrie's Open victory did not give him nightmares growing up.

And he's not at all intimidated by a course that sets up well for his rock solid tee to green ball-striking game.

He said: "I have played a lot of links golf. It is quite a long course, but apart from that it is just fairways and greens.

"I don't think a ridiculously low number is going to win anway. Anywhere about even par is pretty good.

"Of 1999 I just remember it being brutally hard - the rough was just horrendous. I just remember Paul Lawrie making birdie at two of the last four to get into the play off and then going on and winning the play-off with a couple more birdies as well.

"When I won the European Amateur last year, I didn't think I was heading for hell. I thought it was a great opportunity to play in the Open and play well for all four rounds.

"I feel comfortable in pro events but not totally at home. I am coming in and out of amateur events and playing a pro event here a pro event there. Eventually when I do get my tour card it will be easy for me to make the adjustment.

"I admit that I am not as overawed as I used to be. But the Open for me is huge. It is still great to be here but for more seasoned professionals they are preparing like they would for any other tournament.

"I don't think the standard is that much different to real top class amateur standard. After all, they were all amateurs at one stage.

"It is just about trying to be consistent, not flailing away. You have to try to hit fairways and greens and take your opportunities when the come."

McIlroy should feel at home with his playing partners Jimenez and Stenson on Thursday.

He's already met them and can't wait to tee it up with two of the game's most colourful characters on one of golf's great stages.

He beamed: "It is awesome. I was really excited when I heard about the draw. It is a great draw for me and hopefully I can go out and make a good impression.

"I met Henrik through Pete Cowen who works with the GUI anyway and I've said 'Hi' to Miguel a few times."