Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Perfect conditions for a walk in Down

There can be few finer places on earth than Royal County Down on a sunny late summer evening.

And certainly not with the prospect of a Walker Cup ahead over the next two days.

The weather was glorious after months of disappointment and is apparently set fair for the rest of the weekend.

And while the Great Britain and Ireland team would probably prefer a little more in the way of wind, no-one could complain after the summer Northern Ireland has endured so far.

The set-up at Royal County Down this week is superb and the course itself has probably never been in better condition.

The fairways and greens are firming up with every day that passes and it will be a true test of golf over the next two days.

European Tour chief executive George O'Grady says Royal County Down is in such good shape it has inspired him to take up playing again after more than a year with the clubs in the garage.

"It's in absolutely exquisite condition, just immaculate," he said.

"I have walked round all 18 holes today and I've never seen it is such good shape. The R&A have done a wonderful job."

Rory McIlroy raised the flag for Ireland at the brief opening ceremony by the clubhouse last evening. Team captains Buddy Marucci and Colin Dalgleish raised the American and British flags.

There was certainly none of the hype surrounding the Ryder Cup at the ceremony; merely an introduction of the two teams and then the line-ups for today's matches were revealed.

The much-anticipated teaming of McIlroy with fellow Ulsterman Jonny Caldwell was well received and they go up against the top two rated Americans in Colt Knost and Dustin Johnson.

Dalgleish is counting on McIlroy to make a big impact.

"It would be great if Rory can get a couple of birdies early on and win a few holes," he said.

"That would act as such a lift to the whole thing and really get it going for us."

And McIlroy can't wait for the action to start.

"We are going out second because I think with the crowds it would be a bit hectic for the matches behind. And I am out first in the singles as well, which is pretty cool.," he said.

"Yes, the team will just feed off that. I am playing well and I made seven birdies out there today. I am happy with the way I am playing.

"Billy is a good player and I am sure he will be a tough test, but I know this track very well so I am quietly confident.

"If he makes a lot of birdies I will just have to up my game and make a lot of birdies as well. It will be a good test for me. I think it will be pretty tight. The week has flown by and everyone is just really enjoying themselves.

"There was a real buzz at the opening ceremony and everyone is looking forward to the few days ahead. It has been everything I imagined it would be and more.

"I was quite scared about raising the Irish flag and getting it wrong, but the realisation that you are going to be playing in the Walker Cup is fantastic. It is just going to be electric."

Royal County Down is famed around the world for the number of blind tee-shots and there are usually line-of-sight markers to guide the players.

The R&A have decided to make the test just that little bit tougher this weekend though by removing them from the course - although Dalgleish says he didn't request it.

"I'd like to think that having played it so much we know it pretty well," said veteran GB&I team member Nigel Edwards.

"It's slightly different now they've taken out some of the marker posts, but there are still plenty of sighting positions.

"Most of the players will have their particular lines off a particular tee and I'd like to think that we know it well enough by now."

The Americans are clearly relishing their time in Northern Ireland and Marucci says the venue couldn't be better.

"I think the team has loosened up a bit now and we're looking forward to why we are actually here," he said.

"Have the camaraderie, play the matches, play the best golf possible in just an incredible venue.

"So in that regard I think that County Down, the R&A, the USGA, the team, has gone way beyond my expectations.

"It's been everything I've expected it to be and more."

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