Early birdie McGinley first of Irish contingent to tee off at Troon

PAUL McGINLEY will be the first Irish player into action in the Open Championship at Royal Troon at 7.03am on Thursday.

He plays with Rich Beem, winner of the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine in 2002, and the Australian Brendan Jones.

Graeme McDowell renews a close relationship with Thomas Levet, the winner of the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond on Sunday. McDowell beat Levet in a play-off for the Italian Open in May and they go into action together along with Mathew Goggin from Australia.

Padraig Harrington goes out with Stuart Appleby, one of those, including Levet, who failed to Ernie Els in the Muirfield play-off two years ago, and Bob Estes of the US.

Darren Clarke will be in the company of the brilliant young Australian Adam Scott, who won the US TPC this year, beating Harrington into second place.

Also in this group is US Ryder Cup team contender Kenny Perry.

There’s also an attractive match for amateur Brian McElhinney, who goes out with last year’s US Open winner Jim Furyk and Fredrik Jacobson, the extrovert Swede who is bidding to make his Ryder Cup debut for Europe in September.

And the biggest moment in the life of Killarney qualifier Danny Sugrue sees him tee off with Zach Johnson, winner of the Bell South Classic in the States this year, and Louis Oosthuizen from South Africa.

Ben Curtis will open his defence of the Open in the company of Nick Faldo, the three-time winner who was left in his wake last year at Sandwich.

They will be joined by in-form Frenchman Jean- Francois Remesy.

World number one Tiger Woods, without a major win since the 2002 US Open, begins his challenge with twice champion Greg Norman and British Ryder Cup player Lee Westwood.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson plays with British hopeful Paul Casey and Japan’s Shigeki Maruyama, while US Open winner Retief Goosen tees off with Robert Allenby and Jay Haas.

Australia’s Peter O’Malley has the honour of hitting the first drive on the 370-yard, par-four opening hole.

Irish and other tee times for Thursday and Friday:

7.03am (Thurs) and 12.14pm (Fri): R. Beem (USA), B. Jones (Aus), P. McGinley (Irl).

7.58 and 1.09: E. Els (RSA), J. Leonard (USA), L. Donald (Eng).

8.58 and 2.09: C. Montgomerie (Sco), T. Bjorn (Den), F. Lickliter II (USA).

9.12 and 2.31: M. Goggin (USA), G. McDowell (Irl), T. Levet (Fra).

10.04 and 3.15 P. Harrington (Irl), S. Appleby (Aus), B. Estes (USA).

12.03 and 6.52: J. Daly (USA), R. Sabbatini (RSA), E. Romero (Arg).

12.36 and 7. 25: D. Clarke (Irl), A. Scott (Aus), K. Perry (USA).

1.09 and 7.58: R. Goosen (RSA), R. Allenby (Aus), J. Haas (USA).

1.42 and 8.31: T. Woods (USA), L. Westwood (Eng), G. Norman (Aus).

2.09 and 8.58: V. Singh (Fij), D. Toms (USA), T. Izawa (Jap).

2.42 and 9.31: B. Curtis (USA), N. Faldo (Eng), J. F. Remesy (Fra).

3.15 and 10.04: J. Furyk (USA), B. McElhinney (Irl), F. Jacobson (Swe).

3.26 and 10.15: Z. Johnson (USA), L. Oosthuizen (RSA), D. Sugrue (Irl).

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