Ryder Cup 2016: Rory McIlroy says he wants to win for Darren Clarke

Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy (right) has won all three Ryder Cups in which he has competed

Rory McIlroy says he will be driven by the desire to win for childhood hero Darren Clarke as Europe aim for a fourth Ryder Cup victory in a row against the United States.

Europe begin the defence of their trophy in Minnesota on Friday.

McIlroy was only 10 when he first met Europe skipper Clarke, 17 years ago.

“I’ve always wanted the win for the captain, but probably even more so this year because of Darren and the relationship we have,” said McIlroy.

He added that being a player under fellow Northern Irishman Clarke is “special for both of us”.

Four-time major winner McIlroy has never been part of a losing Ryder Cup team since his debut at Celtic Manor six years ago, and will be his team’s de facto on-course leader as the US attempt to win the Cup for the first time since 2008.

In a team featuring six players making their Cup debuts, the world number three’s experience and charisma will be critical for Clarke, who was one of Paul McGinley’s vice-captains in the 16½-11½ victory at Gleneagles two years ago.

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“McGinley was the best captain that I had ever played under – I had a very special relationship with Paul,” said McIlroy.

“I met Darren for the first time on my 10th birthday on the practice range at Royal Portrush Golf Club and we’ve known each other ever since.

“That was my birthday present, to play Royal Portrush, or actually the Valley Course next to it. My dad took me up there.

“I was chipping around the chipping green, and that’s where Darren was, and I was just in awe of him.

“My 10th birthday wasn’t getting any better, and all of a sudden I meet Darren Clarke. I remember him saying to me, ‘practise, practise, practise’.

“That day has always stuck with me and, even this week, all those memories come rushing back of the times that we’ve spent together from Portrush down to Portmarnock, where he held his foundation weekend every year.

“Here we are, in the biggest stage of the game, and I’m able to play under him as a Ryder Cup captain.”

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McIlroy arrives in Minnesota in enviable form, having won a play-off to seal victory in the Tour Championship and take the $10m (£7.7m) FedEx Cup prize on Sunday.

Having won the Deutsche Bank Championship three weeks ago, McIlroy’s latest success continued the sharp turnaround in his fortunes since he missed the cut at the US PGA Championship in late July.

Despite those spectacular earnings, the 27-year-old insists that the Ryder Cup, for which no player gets paid, remains an unparalleled experience in professional golf.

“I think I underestimated what it was going to be like. I made a couple of comments before the 2010 Ryder Cup that seem very stupid now.

“But I had no idea. I had been to Ryder Cups before – I had played in the Junior Ryder Cup, I was at Oakland Hills in 2004, I was at the Ryder Cup in 2006 at the K Club.

“I was there and thought I knew what it was like, but there’s nothing like walking on to that first tee for the first time and feeling that rush and just soaking in the atmosphere.

“That’s what I’ve tried to reiterate to the rookies that are on our team: you think you know what it’s like and you think you’ve played under pressure, but you haven’t. You haven’t played under what this is going to be like.

“In 2012, I came into the Ryder Cup as the number one ranked player in the world. I had just won my second major championship, I won two of the four FedExCup events, I was playing really well, but I still didn’t feel like it was my place to be a leader on the team.

“At Gleneagles last time, I embraced that more and I took more responsibility on. I relished the opportunity to rally our guys, to speak up in the team room when I needed to but definitely lead my example on the course.

“I did that last time and hopefully I can do that again. I understand it’s a big responsibility, but I feel I’m now ready to take that on my shoulders and lead by example.”

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