Friday, 19 March 2010
Dubai Desert Classic - Round Four  (Getty Images)
Dubai Desert Classic - Round Four (Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy hopes to use this week's The 3 Irish Open to get over two second round knock-outs - Ricky Hatton's in Las Vegas and then his own at the Players Championship in Florida last Friday.

The rising star of European golf, who turned 20 only nine days ago, went to see Hatton fight Manny Pacquaio as "a kind of birthday present to myself”.

That did not turn out as McIlroy wanted, though, and nor did his debut at Sawgrass.

After an opening 74 which included a triple bogey six on the famous short 17th he followed with a 77, his worst round of the year, and missed the halfway cut by seven.

With the County Louth club in Baltray only an hour from his home near Belfast the Dubai Desert Classic champion is sure of a huge following - and he aims to put on a good show for them.

"We don’t play that much links golf on The European Tour, so it’s great that The 3 Irish Open is back here," he said.

"I am looking forward to playing it so much because I love links golf. Returning to it after a couple of months in America playing courses like Augusta and Doral will be a test, but it’s a test I’m relishing."

McIlroy was 20th on his first appearance at the Masters Tournament, his fifth top 20 finish out of five in the States this season, but perhaps not surprisingly he has gone off the boil a bit since.

He admits the effort he put into the first Major of the year - and his first as a professional - left him "a little bit flat and tired" for the following week's US PGA Tour event, where he was down in 58th place, and he failed to bounce back at Sawgrass after two weeks off.

Victory this Sunday, however, would put him right on the heels of Australian Geoff Ogilvy - his quarter-final conqueror and eventually winner of the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play in February - in The Race To Dubai money list.

And like last week, the competition is an impressive line-up.

Half last year's Ryder Cup team are in the field and three of them - Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jiménez - are paired together in the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday.

McIlroy tees off with Colin Montgomerie, under whose captaincy he hopes to make his Ryder Cup debut next year, and defending champion Richard Finch.

Pictures of the Hull golfer's win at Adare Manor went round the world last May, but most of them were of him toppling over and falling into the river after playing his third shot to the final green.

John Daly's pairing with Paul McGinley is sure to attract a big following too.

Daly finished joint second in Italy last week, but says of Baltray: "It's totally different golf and you've got to have some luck. 

"It's more imagination golf, which I love to play. Every hole changes because of the wind - one day it could be a driver and the next day a six iron.

"I still am not comfortable off any of the tees and that concerns me a little bit."

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Pos Player nameNatHolePar
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T1LOWRY, ShaneIRL18-17
3EDFORS, JohanSWE18-15
T4DOUGHERTY, NickENG18-13
T4WARREN, MarcSCO18-13
6FORSYTH, AlastairSCO18-12
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