THE 57TH EDITION of the Irish Open gets underway very shortly in Royal Portrush when Scotland’s George Murray does the honour of hitting the opening tee-shot at 7.30am.
Some of golf’s biggest names are in action in County Antrim over the next few days so to help make sure you don’t miss a thing, we’ve picked out five of our top groupings for today.
7.50am: Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington, Simon Dyson
They don’t come much bigger than this with two major winners and the defending Irish Open champion grouped together for the opening rounds. The 2010 US Open champion, McDowell is set for a hometown hero’s welcome on his return to Royal Portrush while Harrington has lately been showing promise of a return to his best with fine finishes at the Olympic Club and then the Traveler’s Championship. Dyson has only won once on the European Tour since holding off Richard Green last season but has proven form on links courses.
8.10am: Damien McGrane, Alan Dunbar (A), Marcel Siem
Another group laced with Irish charm. McGrane has had a solid if unspectacular season to this point, capped by a fine second place finish at the Trophée Hassan II in March. Rathmore’s Alan Dunbar, 23, is sure to pull in a few interested punters following his brilliant win in the British Amateur Championship at Royal Troon last week while Marcel Siem has a knack of popping up at the business end of tournaments. The German already has four top 10 finishes on the European Tour this season.
Alan Dunbar (©INPHO/Getty Images)
12.40pm: Darren Clarke, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello
Despite his wild swings in form, Darren Clarke is still a firm favourite and there’ll be no shortage of fans eager to follow the Dungannon man all the way back to the 19th. Ryder Cup star Francesco Molinari is a household name at this stage but the Italian will need to improve on his recent links form if he’s to add to his sole win on tour this season. Spain’s Rafael Cabrera-Bello can expect to have gained a few admirers following his win at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.
12.50pm: Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Branden Grace
The pick of the groups sees two of 2011’s maiden major winners in McIlroy and Bradley play alongside another hot young thing in Branden Grace. The South African is currently fourth in the Race to Dubai rankings with almost €1.3m in prize money following wins at the Joburg Open, Volvo Golf Champions and Volvo China Open. Bradley’s willingness to tap into his Irish ancestry will go down a treat with the crowd but it will be impossible to shift attention from the world number two who, for mant people, justifies the price of admission alone.
(Lynne Sladky/AP/Press Association Images)
13.10: Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie, George Coetzee
It may not have the glamour of McDowell/Harrington or McIlroy/Bradley but there’s plenty of golfing pedigree in the afternoon grouping of McGinley, Montgomerie and Coetzee. The young South African, 25, might wonder why he has been lumped in with two of the tour’s elder statesmen but they may be able to impart a few pearls of wisdom. Monty is a three-time winner of the Irish Open and despite his Sky Sports-sullied reputation, remains a firm favourite around these parts.