1998 champion O’Meara tees off the 146th Open

July 17 2017, 2.04pmUpdated: July 18 2017, 11.24am
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1998 Champion Golfer of the Year, Mark O'Meara will start the Open at Royal Birkdale on Thursday.

Mark O’Meara, Open champion at Royal Birkdale 19 years ago, will start the 146th championship although many of the big favourites will get longer in their beds on Thursday.

World No 1 Dustin Johnson will play with Rory McIlroy in the prime afternoon slot, while Jason Day, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson all have opening day tee times well into the afternoon.

Somebody important – probably the USA TV network NBC – must like their Thursday lie-ins because it seems the biggest names are stacked in the afternoon section of the draw on the first day, but the long range weather forecast has winds getting up to 25-30 mph in the afternoon and evening which could favour the earlier starters.

Of the main favourites, only Jordan Spieth and defending champion Henrik Stenson have a particularly early opening round start, playing together with Korea’s Si Woo Kim at 9.47 am – considerably later than the usual “prime-time” morning tee-time around 9 am, when the BBC used to come on air.

The R&A have preferred in recent years to have an Open champion of note hit the first ball in the 6.35 am slot, and fittingly O’Meara, who won his title at Birkdale in a play-off in 1998, is their choice this year. Other former champions such as Sandy Lyle (1986), Tom Lehman (1996) and  Stewart Cink (2009) start within the first hour of play.

However relatively few World Top 20 players will play in the morning wave. The first top 10 player on  the tee with by No 9 Alex Noren of Sweden, who plays with Scotland’s top ranked Russell Knox and Ian Poulter, runner-up behind Padraig Harrington at the last Open at Birkdale in 2008.

Brooks Koepka, the new US Open champion, plays at 10.09 am with World No 2 Hideki Matsuyama and England’s Race to Dubai leader Tommy Fleetwood who is on home turf as he hails from Southport.

Another notable morning starter is Drumoig’s Connor Syme, the Scottish amateur international who plays his first Open partnered with the colourful 1995 champion John Daly and Australia’s Adam Bland.

But the biggest guns come out in the afternoon, the trio of Johnson, McIlroy and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel the big draw at 2.47 pm.

Masters champion Garcia, Jason day and 2015 Open winner Zach Johnson play at 1.04 pm, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Paul Casey at 1.26, and the much-fancied Spaniard Rahm goes off Patrick Reed and Lee Westwood at just a minute before 3pm.

Mickelson, the 2013 champion, gets his preferred afternoon start time on Thursday at 3.10 pm. Mickelson has often said he likes to watch the blanket TV coverage to see how the greens are rolling and what conditions are like in advance of playing.

The seven Scots are spread throughout the draw. Paul Lawrie, the 1999 champion, is at 2.37 pm with the USA’s Kevin Chappell and Yuzaku Miyazato of Japan. Richie Ramsay plays with Ryan Fox – they both qualified at the Irish Open two weeks ago – and US Ryder Cup player Matt Kuchar.

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