GOLF: Ryder Cup is Graeme's 'Old Trafford' moment

GRAEME McDOWELL insists the Ryder Cup is as close as he will get to his ultimate dream of playing for Manchester United at Old Trafford.

The US Open champion has a deep passion for the Red Devils having grown up in Portrush as an ardent fan of the club.

McDowell used a cherished ballmarker with the United crest on either side as he soared to his historic victory at Pebble Beach in June.

And he has revealed that it is his dream to go the training centre at Carrington to meet up with the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.

The 30-year-old knows he'll never get the chance to emulate his United heroes by wearing the famous strip but feels this week at Celtic Manor will give him the opportunity to sample the type of team spirit which his icons thrive on at Old Trafford.

Colin Montgomerie has pieced together a fearsome European team for the Ryder Cup showdown and McDowell can't wait to experience the feelings of togetherness which have united many a group under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson.

McDowell explained: "It's such an amazing week and the closest thing we get to experiencing what it is like to play at Old Trafford in a football match.

"Golf is such an individual sport that you don't normally get a chance to get into the locker room and share the emotions and passion that only a team sport can provide.

"Playing with a partner on Friday and Saturday and then getting back into the team room with the guys getting fired-up for the singles the next day will be great.

"It's us against them for a weekend and that team environment is something you will be able to celebrate with the guys.

"The crowd interaction with the team is also very different from, say, a US Open on a Sunday afternoon.

"Crowds pull for their own players, but Ryder Cup weekend has them pulling for one team, Europe or the USA. It has a different feel."

The camaraderie and spirit within the camp is unique and McDowell got his first taste of the atmosphere at Valhalla two years ago.

Unfortunately, the debut ended in defeat to Paul Azinger's fired-up hosts but the Major winner couldn't forget the fabulous feeling of being involved with the group.

With this in mind, McDowell believes there will be a sea change in the thinking of young pal Rory McIlroy when he gets started at Celtic Manor.

The precocious kid has the world at his feet and the admiration of the golfing public for his sensational talent and polite manner. But McIlroy did raise the hackles of European golf fans with his initial assessment of the Ryder Cup.

The 21-year-old caused a stir by stating the event was way down his list of priorities. He even stated he would choose winning a World Golf Championship trophy over success for Europe.

But team-mate and Portrush pal McDowell insists McIlroy will soon change his tune when he steps into the rarefied atmosphere in Wales.

He said: "I think Rory will have a different respect for the Ryder Cup when he gets out there.

"Rory is an extremely ambitious kid and he is all about Major championships and WGCs.

"I'm hoping to play with him in a few matches and he'll have a different respect when he gets out there, feels it and understands it. It's just something a bit special.

"Money aside - and obviously we don't get paid a penny - the Ryder Cup is just such a special event. Who needs money? The Ryder Cup has always been something that's pretty close to my heart.

"I think when Rory gets out there and feels it he will maybe have a different view on it."

McDowell won't lack for excitement when he gets started and also has some serious course form on his side going into the showpiece.

The US Open champion has already been a winner at Celtic Manor this year after grabbing the Welsh Open title earlier in the season and he is savouring the prospect of getting back out.

McDowell reckons the fans are in for a thrilling spectacle with the lay-out of the holes at the venue and the options open to skipper Montgomerie for making changes during the three days to keep the fans enthralled and his team one step ahead.

He explained: "I won the Welsh Open there in June so I know the golf course pretty well.

"I think the course has really gone from strength to strength over the last few years and there has been a lot of work on it.

"They've cleaned the place up, aesthetically it looks better and it's going to be a great match-play course.

"They have a lot of tee-box options on the par fives and par fours.

"They can make the fifth a driveable par four and a number of holes can be made into risk and reward holes.

"It's going to be great for match play.

We now just need the golfing gods to be kind with the weather."

European fans will also be hoping the home side get the breaks as Monty's men charge for the trophy.

McDowell believes the return to fitness of World No.3 Lee Westwood has been a massive boost for the squad and feels Europe is equipped to win back the prize.

He said: "We need Lee fit as he is one of the key components of the team.

"He looks on top form and is ready to go.

"If you look at the betting we are odds-on at 4-6 but it is going to be very tight."