Big occasion looms for McIlroy

From Brian Keogh at Royal County Down

Rory McIlroy faces the biggest occasion of his young golfing life at Royal County Down this weekend.

And the 18-year-old plans to savour what he hopes will be an unforgettable experience as the vast majority of the expected 10,000 crowd joins him inside the ropes at the legendary Newcastle links.

While he was a spectacular winner of the Silver Medal in the Open at Carnoustie just seven weeks ago, the youngster knows that the team aspect make this a far different, and potentially more rewarding, experience.

"People have made comparisons about Carnoustie and this week but I think it's completely different,” McIlroy told a packed news conference at the Newcastle track.

“You're playing for nine other guys out there. The crowds at Carnoustie were pretty awesome but I think this week's just going to be so much better for me, and for everyone else.

"This week the crowds walk with you on the fairway and I'm just really looking forward to it and I can't wait to get started.

"I think when the crowds walk with you on the fairways, it creates a better atmosphere, as well. There's really no way to describe it.

"It just creates a buzz around the place. I think that's one of the things we're all really looking forward to is the amount of people that are going to be here.

"I think at the atmosphere on the first tee come Saturday morning is going to be electric. I think we are really looking forward to that."

English Walker Cup legend Gary Wolstenholme, who surprisingly failed to earn his seventh cap this week, has regarded Great Britain and Ireland as the odds-on favourites to win ever since the venue was announced.

"It's just the fact that the golf course is so completely quirky with blind shots and run offs and stuff like that,” said the 47-year-old, who will be a commentator for BBC TV this weekend.

"There is no reason at all why an American can play a little chip and run, or a low punch shot. But it is instinctive for us and that is where we have an advantage.

"We don’t have to stop and think about those shots. We don't stop and say, I have to get my hands forward or put the ball back in my stance. And that's a massive advantage under pressure.”

US skipper Buddy Marucci was happy to concede that Great Britain and Ireland are rightly considered the favourites to win back the trophy where the mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea.

“I think the home team is always favoured mainly because of the style of play,” Marucci said. “For us to come over for a week, five or six days, and try to develop a game plan is the best we can hope for.”

The four pairings for the opening foursomes will be announced at 3pm today and it looks likely that room mates McIlroy and Jonathan Caldwell will be paired together with Scot Lloyd Saltman teaming up with Welsh ace Rhy Davies.

US skipper Marucci has indicated that he would like to see all ten members of his side play at least three matches over the two days.

But his opposite number Dalgleish was more cagey about his intentions, explaining: “I certainly don't have a policy of playing everyone three times. I certainly have a policy of wherever it's possible, that everybody plays in the Walker Cup. You would like to have all of your players play the first day barring some surprise factor.

“But I think in terms of who plays the next day, it's sort of dependent on what happens the first day. It's pretty tough to say that someone is going to play three times minimum.”