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Ryder Cup skeptic McIlroy fights back

  • Story Highlights
  • Rory McIlroy shoots three-under-par 69 to open Irish Open at County Louth
  • Northern Ireland youngster attracted large galleries in home tournament
  • 20-year-old makes barbed comments about Ryder Cup ahead of event
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(CNN) -- Home hope Rory McIlroy recovered from a poor start to card a challenging three-under-par 69 in the first round of Irish Open at County Louth.

McIlroy was paired with European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie in the first round.

McIlroy was paired with European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie in the first round.

The 20-year-old is earmarked as one of the stars of the future after his win in this year's Dubai Desert Classic but caused a stir when he said that claiming a place on the Ryder Cup team was "not a huge goal of mine."

McIlroy told the official European Tour Web site www.europeantour.com: "At the end of the day it's an exhibition and should be there to be enjoyed. But golf is an individual sport and my individual goals are to win tournaments for myself."

By a delicious irony, McIlroy was paired with European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, who says that winning back the trophy from the Americans will be "the highlight of my career."

Montgomerie, who has missed two successive cuts, showed improved form to card a two-under 70.

McIlroy was two-over early in his round, but hit back with five birdies to leave himself within three shots of the early clubhouse lead at six-under being held by Nick Dougherty, former British Open champion Paul Lawrie and Finn Roope Kakko

McIlroy admitted he had lacked inspiration in two tournaments following the excitement of his U.S. Masters debut, but was pumped up by the large gallery following his group in Ireland and was satisfied with his round.

"Hopefully it can set me up for the rest of the week," he told Sky Sports.

Dougherty, who slipped out of Ryder Cup contention after the death of his mother from a heart attack last season, was pleasantly surprised by the conditions after predictions of bad weather.

"Apart from the fact that it was very cold at the start it was a pleasant surprise and you feel a bit more positive about what you can achieve."

But defending champion Richard Finch, who made headlines last year when he fell into a stream playing his approach shot to the 18th on the final day, could do no better than a 73, while Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell had a 77.

Big names John Daly, Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood were among the later starters on Thursday.

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