By Steve Keating
MEDINAH, Illinois (Reuters) - The United States had labeled world number one Rory McIlroy a marked man at the 39th Ryder Cup but it was the Northern Irishman who sounded like the hunter after the opening matchups were announced on Thursday.
"I just can't wait, I am so excited right now," McIlroy told reporters after being paired with fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell against Brent Snedeker and Jim Furyk in Friday's foursomes.
"Leading the side off in the Ryder Cup, we are going to go out there and get the blue on the board early."
After a tense buildup, the biennial showdown between the United States and Europe is set for an explosive start with golf's two hottest players, McIlroy and Snedeker, pitted against each other.
Between them, McIlroy and Snedeker have dominated the lead up to the Ryder Cup by winning four of the last five PGA Tour events and both captains appeared hopeful of riding that momentum.
With three victories from his last five starts, including the PGA Championship, McIlroy was the logical choice to lead the European charge as they look to defend their title. His partnership with McDowell produced one-and-a-half points from a possible two at Celtic Manor two years ago.
As a rookie, Snedeker's appearance in the first match was less obvious but the American displayed nerves of steel staring down the world's top players to win the season-ending Tour championship and the $10 million bonus that went to the FedExCup champion.
"To be honest, they are not the opponents we were expecting," said McIlroy. "We know that their team is strong all the way through but it was a little surprising to see a rookie in their first group."
Snedeker will lean heavily on Furyk, a battle hardened Ryder Cup veteran appearing in his eighth event.
"Jim is playing great, a great guy to lean on, he's got so much experience," said Snedeker.
"It will be a tough match, they are two of the best players in the world, they have a close relationship and they are going to come out swinging the first match of the day.
"But I think my game stacks up against anybody right now and I think Jim's does too so we are going to give them a hard match tomorrow."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)
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