Favourites tag doesn't bother GB&I

From Brian Keogh at Royal County Down

Red-hot favourites? No problem. Great Britain and Ireland’s ten-man squad don’t need the bookies, Gary Wolstenholme or even United States skipper George “Buddy” Marucci to tell them what they already know.

Backboned by star players Rory McIlroy, Lloyd Saltman and Rhys Davies, Great Britain and Ireland’s amateur stars are already oozing with confidence ahead of this weekend’s eagerly awaited Walker Cup clash with the US.

Much is expected of 18-year-old McIlroy, but the hotshot from Holywood confessed yesterday that the squad is comfortable with the favourites’ tag on a Royal County Down course that could prove to be the difference between the sides.

Following his Silver Medal winning exploits in the Open at Carnoustie, McIlroy is under pressure to produce the goods in front of 10,000 home fans on a course that is no more than an hour’s drive from his front door.

But the youngster knows that this will be far different to what he experienced at Carnoustie and he can’t wait to soak up the atmosphere as the fans tread the fairways alongside a side that Saltman regards as a tighter unit than the group that lost by a point in Chicago two years ago.

"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.

“And if the weather stays consistent, then that would be great for us because we will have at least practised in similar conditions to the ones that we're going to play under and we all know that can change.”

The opening foursomes pairings will be announced at 3pm today and it looks likely that room mates McIlroy and Rory McIlroy will be paired together with Scot 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, but it's pretty tough to say that someone is going to play three times minimum.”

The McIlroy factor is going to be huge but Scot Saltman regards the entire team as a solid ten-man unit capable of carrying the favourites tag.

Saltman said: "To be honest, this feels a bit more like a team than last time. We've got a great team, so we're going to go out and try to go one better than last time.

"But it's a ten-man team. One guy can't win the Walker Cup. You need the ten to win it. We're concentrating on that. It's a team effort.

“I think it's quite a good thing because that people favour us, that's why we worked so hard all year to get on the team.

“If people think we're favourites, that's great. We'll just go out and try to do what we've done all year and play golf really and hopefully come out on top, and it's just good that people think we are the better side, but hopefully we can prove that as well.”