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Clarke and McIlroy have known each other for 17 years.
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Europe

McIlroy keen to repay Clarke's tenth birthday surprise

Seventeen years after his tenth birthday present turned into a starstruck first meeting with Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy is desperate to ensure Europe's Ryder Cup captain leaves Hazeltine with equally happy memories.

McIlroy will make his fourth Ryder Cup appearance on the back of a dramatic play-off victory in the US PGA Tour's Tour Championship in Atlanta on Sunday, which also secured the overall FedEx Cup title and an $11.5m payday.

And after quickly regretting labelling the biennial contest "an exhibition" before his debut at Celtic Manor in 2010, the four-time Major winner is especially motivated to play his part in an unprecedented fourth straight victory.

"I made a couple of comments before The 2010 Ryder Cup that seem very stupid now," McIlroy conceded on Tuesday. "I think I underestimated what it was going to be like.

"Everyone in Europe has been very fortunate to play under some great captains, but especially the last two. Paul McGinley at Gleneagles was the best captain that I had ever played under. I had a very special relationship with Paul.

"And again with Darren, I met Darren for the first time on my tenth birthday at Royal Portrush Golf Club and we've known each other ever since. I was part of his Foundation to try and nurture the talent in Ireland and I think it's special for both of us this week, that he is now a Ryder Cup captain and I'm a player under him.

"I've always wanted the win for the captain, but probably even more so this year just because of Darren and the relationship that we have."

Asked about that first meeting in 1999, McIlroy added: "That was my birthday present, to play Royal Portrush, or actually the Valley Course next to it.

"My dad took me up there for my birthday. I remember I got a new wedge so I was chipping around the chipping green and that's where Darren was. I was just in awe of him. He had been on a great run, was like a top-ten player in the world and it was the first time to meet him. It was a great birthday for me.

"That day has always stuck with me and even this week, all those memories come sort of 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, on the biggest stage of the game, and I'm able to play under him as a Ryder Cup captain and I'm very much looking forward to that. Fourth Ryder Cup for myself. Never experienced a loss before and obviously that's the goal this week again, is to take that cup home."

The motto of the European team this week is "Shoulder to shoulder" and McIlroy is braced for a tough battle as the United States look to bounce back from losing six of the past seven contests.

Although two of those were by record nine-point margins in 2004 and 2006, there was just one point between the sides in 2010 and 2012 and Europe had to survive a scare in the singles at Gleneagles before winning by five points.

"We shouldn't have won in 2012," McIlroy admitted. "It was unbelievable how that worked out. And even at Celtic Manor in 2010, we only won one session, but it was that session where all 12 players were on the golf course [due to bad weather] and we won that session 5 1/2 to a 1/2.

"So The Ryder Cup has probably been a lot tighter than people realise it is and I'm sure it's going to be that way again this year. It's going to be very tough. We've got a tough opposition. We've got a great American team to play against on their home soil. It's going to be a great battle."