Molinari expects 'special' Open week

Portrush (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


Francesco Molinari has been paired with America's Bryson DeChambeau and Australia's Adam Scott as he gears up to launch the defence of his British Open title at Royal Portrush this week.

Rory McIlroy, who set the course record of 61 at Portrush as a 16-year-old, will get his quest for a first major title in five years underway alongside US Open champion Gary Woodland and Paul Casey.

Molinari, who will tee off on the links course in Northern Ireland at 9:58am (0858 GMT) on Thursday, said he was expecting a memorable couple of days.

"Any week you defend it's special, but this week will be extra special," Molinari said. "I just want to enjoy it as much as possible and like I did at the Ryder Cup, I want to soak in the atmosphere."

Former champion Darren Clarke, who owns a house overlooking the Dunluce Links, will be up early to hit the opening tee shot at 6:35 am (0535 GMT) alongside Amateur Championship winner James Sugrue from Ireland and American Charley Hoffman.

Clarke, 50, lifted the Claret Jug at Royal St George's in 2011 but has missed the cut in three of the past four years. He admitted to having mixed feelings about his position as "honorary" starter, a role filled by Sandy Lyle, Mark O'Meara and Colin Montgomerie in recent years.

"The question is are they going to put me off on the first tee shot at 6:30 am?" Clarke said earlier this month. "That means you're not really supposed to do any good in the tournament. We'll see.

"The bottom line is, I am going to tee it up on one of my favourite golf courses in the world in Portrush in The Open as a past champion. It doesn't get much better than that."

McIlroy admits it would "mean the world" to win a second Open title on home soil as Northern Ireland hosts the event for just the second time and the first since Max Faulkner's victory in 1951.

Portrush native Graeme McDowell is off at 9:14am in the company of 2016 winner Henrik Stenson and American Xander Schauffele, who finished joint second at Carnoustie last year.

Three-time winner Tiger Woods has a lengthy wait before getting his bid for a 16th major title under way, the 43-year-old teeing off at 3:10pm with his Ryder Cup team-mate Patrick Reed and England's Matt Wallace.

World number one Brooks Koepka, who has finished second, first and second in the year's Majors to date, starts at 1:04pm in the same group as 2010 champion Louis Oosthuizen and India's Shubhankar Sharma.

Like many players in the field, Koepka has never played Royal Portrush before, but his caddie Ricky Elliott was born and raised in the town.