MADRID, Oct 10 (Reuters) Northern Irish teenager Rory McIlroy plans to continue last week's exhilarating form at the home of golf all the way to next September's Ryder Cup.
After clinching his card with a third place in the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews on Sunday, McIlroy was rewarded with an invitation to this week's Madrid Open.
The 18-year-old sees no reason why he cannot claim his first European Tour title now in his third outing as a professional but his ultimate goal is to make his Ryder Cup debut just a year after playing in the Walker Cup.
''If I made the Ryder Cup team it would be unbelievable,'' McIlroy told Reuters today. ''Playing Walker Cup in 2007 and then Ryder Cup in 2008 would be funny. I don't think many people would have done that.
''I'm eighth on the points list and if I can get a few more good finishes then you never know.
''It would be a great achievement but it's something I am trying not to think about too much. I'm just going to try to play steady golf and try to win every time I play.'' FIRST TARGET McIlroy's first target is the 212,000 dollar first prize at the Real Sociedad Hipica club this week. If he succeeds he will become the youngest winner on the European Tour.
Having finished ahead of world number five Ernie Els and British Open champion Padraig Harrington last week, McIlroy, who first hit the headlines with a flawless first round 68 in the Open at Carnoustie in July, is looking to prove himself further.
''I have proved I can play with top players,'' he said. ''If I can play the way I have been there is no reason why I can't go on and win.
''It has been a bit of a whirlwind for me but I'm looking forward to the week ahead and hopefully I can get my first win pretty quickly.'' To achieve his ambition McIlroy this time will have to play better than the likes of former Ryder Cup men Thomas Bjorn and 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie, fourth last week.
The home challenge in Madrid is strong too with 2007 tour winners Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Jose Manuel Lara, Pablo Martin, Alvaro Quiros and Carl Suneson all keen to win on Spanish soil.
South African Dale Hayes became the youngest European Tour winner at 18 years 290 days when he won the 1971 Spanish Open. McIlroy can beat that record by 127 days if he wins this week.
Spain's Sergio Garcia won at 19 in 1999 in his fourth event and went on to make the Ryder Cup that year.
REUTERS BJR PM1710