McIlroy's guide to Royal County Down

By Brian Keogh

Rory McIlroy can't wait to suffer the stomach-churning pressure of the Walker Cup at Royal County Down today.

American Trip Kuehne admitted this week that the crushing pressure of team play "makes mice of some men".

But even with 10,000 fans craning their necks to watch the Holywood hotshot launch the first salvo against the Americans, McIlroy is ready to take the full burden of responsibility on his shoulders.

In the Open at Carnoustie, he stood side by side with Ryder Cup players Henrik Stenson and Miguel Angel Jimenez and went on to shoot a 68 that left him tied for third at the end of the day.

He beat the Spaniard and Tiger Woods by one shot and the Swede by three, eventually finishing as the leading amateur.

But he also showed that he is a special player who feeds off pressure. And don't expect that to change at Royal County Down.

Asked if he was worried about the massive expectations of his home fans this weekend, McIlroy's answer will make chilling reading for the United States.

He said: "You've watched me long enough to know that I love the pressure. I enjoy playing under it and I am really looking forward to it.

"I have really enjoyed the week so far and come Saturday morning I will be excited and up for it."

That must be music to the ears of GB&I skipper Colin Dalgleish and a stark warning to Buddy Marucci and his troops.

But what's more intimidating is how comfortable McIlroy feels on the quirkiest links course in the world and he knows exactly how to plot his way around.

A strokeplay kingpin, McIlroy loves the head to head excitement of matchplay combat and courses that force him to think.

He said: "Royal County Down is one of those courses that makes me focus. I love it and it's going to be great for matchplay.

"A lot is going to happen on that back nine and if there is a hole that could prove to be pivotal, it is the 16th.

"It's new hole but it looks as though it has been there forever. It only measures 337 yards so I'll be going for it every time with the driver.

"You can get it on the green and make a two and that could be the perfect time to strike with holes running out."

As for the pressure of leading Great Britain and Ireland in his native County Down, McIlroy is looking forward to the challenge.

He said: "The Open was the most pressure I have ever felt. On that first tee I was bricking. I was playing with Henrik Stenson and Miguel Angel Jimenez and you don't want to get in their way. But I think I settled down nicely.

"This week I will be just as nervous or maybe even more nervous. But I love it at the same time.

"The difference is that you are playing for nine other guys. I am really looking forward to it and hopefully we can pull off a win.

"We have picked the team that has got the best chance of winning and to be honest, we couldn't have picked a better team. There are another half a dozen guys who could have got on the side but we have a great mix.

"Nigel Edwards is the guy we will all look up to. He has played three Walker Cups already and he is the one with all the experience.

"He said to us, 'If you thought you were nervous before, wait until the Walker Cup. It is just more nerve-wracking than anything.

"He said, you might have played in European Tour events, but this is ten times worse. The great thing is that the captain and all the selectors know what we do best and they just let us get on with it.

"The pressure is something that is just part of the game and I love it and use it to help me. The American team will give us a very good match but we are afraid of nobody.

"The course is firm and the greens are fast. It is going to be really good. I've never seen the course look as good.

"You've just got to keep it in play. Keep it out of the heather and the rough and take your time on the greens.

"It is the greens that are the key. You really have to know where to leave the ball to have a chance.

"If you play to the front half of the greens you are always going to be doing alright. Anything long and you are dead.

"It is all about fairways and greens. But if they put the pins in tricky positions, people will even be putting off greens, wait and see."

The whole of Ireland has been waiting since 1991 for the Walker Cup to return.

Back then,not even Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson could stop a US squad that featured Phil Mickelson and David Duval.

This time, GB&I has McIlroy and 10,000 Irish fans to spur them to another Walker Cup victory.

Defeat seems unimaginable.

(Rory's hole by hole guide to Royal County Down)
Rory McIlroy has played Royal County Down dozens of times over the past few years.

The course is less than an hour's drive from his front door and he knows exactly how it should be played.

Here's his hole by hole guide to one of the world's greatest links courses.

1st 539 yards Par 5
It is a driver and that leaves you anything from 250 to 200 yards to a narrow entrance and a long narrow green. The best way in is from the left. It is a driver and anything between a three and a five iron.

2nd 444 yards Par 4
You have to hit the driver up the right side of the fairway to give yourself a good look at the green. From there it is only a short iron in - a nine iron or a wedge.

3rd 477 yards par 4
I'll probably hit a three-wood up the left hand side to fly the trap to get another good look at the green and a six iron to a nine iron. The green kicks from left to right as well so you have to keep that in mind when you are coming in there.

4th 213 yards Par 3
It's a beautiful par three from an elevated tee. Depending on the wind and where the pin is, it can play anything from a three iron to a six iron. It's a tough hole and you just can't miss it right. The best miss is left if you want to get it up and down for par.

5th 440 yards Par 4
It's another blind tee shot and I'll probably hit a three-wood here and that will leave me a seven or an eight iron to a pretty flat green. Again, it is probably best to miss it left in a little hollow.

6th 398 yards Par 4
A two-iron or a three-wood off the tee leaves you short iron to a very tricky green. The green falls off on every side and while it is one of the shortest par-fours on the course you just have to get it on the green and take you chances from there.

7th 145 yards Par 3
The seventh is one of the great short par threes. You can't go left at all or you are down in a deep bunker. It is anything from a seven iron to a wedge, depending on the wind. The right side of the green is the target and you can miss it right there.

8th 430 yards Par 4
It's not as bad as you might think. You just have to hit your drive up towards the bunker on the right which is around 350 yards away and you have a short iron in there. The problem is the green because you just have to play to the middle of the green there. There are fall offs on either side and you just MUST hit that 20 foot wide strip up the middle of the green.

9th 486 yards Par 4
It's a great hole. You just take aim at the little white cottage on the mountain and let rip. If you get a good drive away you could have a five-iron to an elevated green. If the wind is against or with you, it could be a two-iron or a seven-iron. And it's a tricky one to read.

Out 3572 yards Par 35

10th 197 yards Par 3
It's another great par-three and you just have to make sure you land it at the front of the green because it all feeds in from the left. It can play as much as a four-iron but it comes at an important time in the round. If they put the pin somewhere in the back right it is accessible. But

11th 440 yards Par 4
This is all about position off the tee on his blind dogleg right hole. It is a three-wood to come in from the left side of the fairway and then you are hitting straight up the green. It slopes from right to left and there is a big knuckle on the front right of the green. The main thing is to hit the fairway and it is a big green, so middle of the green is fine.

12th 527 yards Par 5
It's a real birdie hole. I hit a drive and a five iron in there the other day. You just hit your drive straight at the green and then come in from the left hand side. You can run something in or even fly it all the way.

13th 444 yards Par 4
It all depends how you are feeling. You can lay it back in the fairway or try and and hit a three-wood over the corner on the right and I'll probably try and do that to give myself a good look at the green. Everything feeds in from right to left so it can be just a wedge in there. But you can't come up short with the bunker there.

14th 212 yards Par 3
Another good par three. I hit a four-iron into the wind. But it can be a two iron or a seven iron. The front of the green is not a bad spot to be with the surface sloping from back to front you will have an uphill putt.

15th 467 yards Par 4
A great par four. I hit a three wood up the right so I don't run out of fairway. From there it is a five or a six iron but you have to be careful not to miss it right because there is a big fall off there and it is very difficult to get it up and down. You just have to hit the green. No messing. There is a fall off to the left as well. A great hole and hole you just have to make four. It is pivotal.

16th 337 yards Par 4
I love this new hole. It looks as though it has been there forever. I hit driver on the green the other day and made a two. If you lay back it is a very fiddly shot and the green has a lot of subtle borrows on it as well. It is another pivotal hole and one you are looking to birdie.

17th 435 yards Par 4
There are some dangerous bunkers down the right so you hit three-wood down the left and make sure you don't run down into the pond in the middle of the fairway. Just get to the top of the hill and then it is only a short iron in there. The green is a bowl so everything feeds into the middle of the green there. It's another good chance. Short is not bad because there are bunkers, left, right and long.

18th 550 yard Par 5
It's a great finishing hole and you have to make sure you hit the fairway. The bunkers on the right don't come into play any more but there is some rough further down there that is long and thick and that has to be avoided. If you are going to go for the green, you have to miss it short. Going right or left you can be short-sided. If you lay up and leave yourself 100 yards it is a tough shot. A very demanding hole.

In 3609 yards Par 35
Total 7181 yards Par 71