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Paul Azinger says USA need to target Rory McIlroy in Ryder Cup

By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH.   Last Updated: 26/09/12 6:05pm

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Former American Ryder Cup skipper Paul Azinger says beating Rory McIlroy on the opening day could be the key to victory for the hosts this time around at Medinah.

Azinger masterminded an American victory in Kentucky four years ago, and he says getting an early victory over the European's top player is the best way for Davis Love to try and emulate him in Chicago.

McIlroy is the world number one and now a two-time major winner after his USPGA success in August, and Azinger says the American's must try and target the young Northern Irishman by trying to guess where Jose Maria Olazabal will send him out in his line-up.

Azinger believes it is the first time Europe have had a true stand-out team leader since Seve Ballesteros, and an early loss for McIlroy would put a big dent in European confidence early on in the Ryder Cup.

Speaking to Sky Sports News at Medinah, Azinger says McIlroy has shown that he can slump his shoulders when things go against him, so has already spoken to Love and told him to try and get an early win over him.

"For the first time since Seve Ballesteros the Americans have a player they can look for," Azinger told Sky Sports News. "I talked to Davis three or four weeks ago and I told him exactly that.

"I said 'it's like chess you both submit envelopes, they're then open and you go out in that order' but the trick is to try and find McIlroy.

"We don't know who they're going to play - but the key is finding Rory McIlroy. My advice was to look where the Europeans always used to set Seve and just presume Jose will put him there and maybe you can find him that way."

In form

Azinger would not send a Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson out to go against McIlroy, but instead would be looking for a more in-form smaller-name player who had much less to lose.

"I'd try to find him with a couple of more obscure players that were playing great that would have everything to gain by beating Rory," added Azinger.

"I think with his youthful enthusiasm he's going to be the leader in the team room even though he's kind of shy and quiet.

"But we've all seen Rory can slump his shoulders a bit. I believe the first day's the key, if you can beat Rory the first day the whole dynamic changes in the European team room."

Woods is still the big name on the USA team, and Azinger acknowledges that it is the same situation as with McIlroy in that a defeat for Woods early on dents the Americans' morale.

"I think everyone wants to find Tiger Woods - it's an everything-to-gain situation for them and the Europeans have done a terrific job of putting their hottest players on Tiger.

"Tiger's always been easy to find because every captain's sent him out first if you look in the history books. I'm sure they'll look for Tiger - if you beat Tiger our whole team is affected by it and I think the European team gets a huge boost."

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