The first tee time gets called soon at Muirfield for the 2013 Open Championship, with golf's best and brightest stepping to the tee box at times when most stateside are soundly asleep in preparation for their work day.
The five-hour time differential between Scotland, where this year's event is held, and the East Coast in the United States inherently makes the early rounds more difficult to watch. Only the most diehard fans will be calling off work or stocking up on 5-Hour Energy Drinks to watch the opening couple of rounds, which makes having the schedule in your mental Rolodex a must.
That's especially the case considering the preponderance of great golfers in this field.
Seventeen former champions adorn this field, including defending champ and two-time victor Ernie Els. The Big Easy will be joined by Brandt Snedeker and Justin Rose for his threesome, making one of the many formidable pairings for the first two rounds.
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, the world's two top-ranked golfers, are both obviously in the field and looking for their first major championships of 2013. Woods comes in as a prohibitive favorite, per Bovada, and has experience playing on the par-71 Muirfield, a course that could swallow up first-time entrants.
The world's top-ranked player will tee off alongside Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen.
McIlroy will be paired with Hideki Matsuyama and Phil Mickelson, making for one of the best early morning groups.
While those names are intriguing when pixelated on your screen by themselves, the looming Claret Jug makes things all the more weighty. The Open Championship, in its 142nd iteration this year, is the oldest of golf's four major tournaments and for some remains the most prestigious.
And the presence of old stalwarts like Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Fred Couples will do nothing but make that rustic feeling hit an apex.
With that in mind, here is a quick look at the pairings to watch and a complete listing of everything you need to know about Thursday's opening round.
Day 1 Viewing Information
Where: Muirfield, Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland
When: Thursday, July 18 from 4 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET (9 a.m. to 8 p.m. BST)
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Real-Time Leaderboard Updates: The Open
Pairings to Watch
Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Phil Mickelson (4:44 a.m. ET, 9:44 a.m. BST)
Of the groups that tee off before anyone stateside will have had their morning coffee, the one led by McIlroy and Mickelson undoubtedly carries the most intrigue.
Mickelson is coming off his first European victory in two decades. The 43-year-old American triumphed at last week's Scottish Open, shooting a score of 17-under and defeating Branden Grace in a playoff for the win.
A man whose links career has often spent more time in the rough than the fairway, that win at Castle Stuart did more than anyone realizes. Mickelson has finished inside the top 10 just twice in his Open Championship career, which is a fourth of his next-lowest total—the PGA Championship.
It seems one win has given plenty of people confidence in Mickelson's chances. At least that's the case if the oddsmakers' books are indicative of betting patterns (note: they are).
Mickelson is sitting at 14-1 to win at Muirfield as of publication, second behind only Tiger Woods among the favorites for this event. Considering Lefty has exactly one top-five finish at Muirfield in his career, let's just say the odds are a little jarring to say the least.
McIlroy has been adjusted down to 22-1, but that's less to do with an influx of money than it does the odds finalizing themselves in a lower fashion. The 24-year-old North Irishman has taken more questions about his focus this week than his chances of winning, which is arguably justifiable considering his struggles of the past nine months.
Inconsistent from everywhere on the course, McIlroy has not won in 2013. He has only one top-five finish during the season and has seen his world golf No. 1 ranking be given back to the man whose throne he supposedly took at the PGA Championship last year.
There has been beckoning—specifically from Nick Faldo—for McIlroy to keep his head more focused on the game than outside distractions.
It will be interesting to see just how he does on Thursday considering his recent struggles on the links. Both McIlroy and Mickelson have a shot at contending this week, but they're going to have to be in prove-it mode from Day 1 for anyone to take them seriously.
Even the 21-year-old Matsuyama, who will be overshadowed by his larger-than-life playing partners, has an outside shot at impressing folks this week. The Japanese youngster was among the most pleasant surprises from Merion at the U.S. Open, finishing in a tie for 10th place. That career-best moment moved Matsuyama into 44th place in the world golf rankings, despite only playing two PGA events this season.
Matsuyama is playing in his first Open Championship, so there won't be any high expectations. But if he can pick up a few tips from McIlroy and Mickelson while possibly making the cut, it will be a valuable experience for him going forward.
Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen (9:45 a.m. ET, 2:45 p.m. BST)
Any round of golf Tiger Woods plays is must-watch television. It's been that way for over a decade and a half now, and his name stays just as relevant now as it was during his first major championship at The Masters. Nike doesn't just hand out fat new contracts to irrelevant athletes, after all.
But more than relevancy and intrigue, Tiger is firmly in the midst of a battle with Father Time. He's 37 now, five years removed from his last major championship. There have been close calls in every single season.
The last time Woods went through a major championship season without finishing inside the top five, Bill Clinton was still in his first term at the White House.
At the same time, Barack Obama has won the presidency and begun his second term in the time between now and Woods' last major championship. This is by far the longest gap of his career, making the mini-slump he had in 2003 and 2004 utterly irrelevant in his career arc.
Now there are plausible scenarios in which Woods' career simply ends with him at 14 majors, forever chasing Jack Nicklaus' record of 18. There are windows where athletes have a chance for world domination. Woods' is fast closing, and we might get a good idea if he's closed altogether this week at Muirfield.
The oral history of Eldrick's last trip to Muirfield has been told time and again during this week. Standing two shots behind the leaders with a chance to win his third major of 2002, Woods collapsed as hellish conditions ruined his third round. He shot an 81 and fell out of contention.
But what's lost in all of that hubbub is that Woods played well enough in the other three rounds. He came back after that terrible third round to shoot a 65 on Sunday, bringing himself back up to even par for the tournament. Had Woods even shot a 75—a mildly bad, seemingly crippling score—he would have entered the four-way playoff won by Ernie Els.
The field should get a good idea of which Tiger will show up on Thursday. Woods is known for his charges on moving day, but he's also historically been a front-runner—not someone who makes torrid comebacks. If he's in contention after 18 holes, we may be watching Tiger out of more than curiosity this weekend.
Woods will be joined by McDowell and Oosthuizen, each of whom are considered secondary contenders in the event.
McDowell, who finished no worse than a tie for 12th in last year's major events, comes in looking to atone for a terrible twosome this year. The 33-year-old North Irishman was cut from both the Masters and the U.S. Open, and he threw the Players Championship in for good measure.
It's been a strange downfall for McDowell, one that could seemingly turn around in an instant. I'll be surprised if he makes it three straight major championship cuts this week at Muirfield, especially after a tie for fifth last year.
As for Oosthuizen? Well, it's been about the same. The 30-year-old won the Open Championship three years ago at St. Andrews, but the major follies that have followed him since are pronounced. Since that career-best triumph, Oosthuizen has either missed the cut or withdrawn in six different Slam events, including both of this year's outings.
The closest he's come to getting a second major was at last year's Masters, but you can never discount a recent Open Championship winner. Links courses tend to be friendly to the ones who reciprocate, and Oosthuizen's skill set has always been conducive to the setup.
Day 1 Tee Times/Pairings
|Players||Tee Time (ET)||Tee Time (BST)|
|Peter Senior, Lloyd Saltman, Oliver Fisher||1:32 a.m.||6:32 a.m.|
|Robert Karlsson, Todd Hamilton, Ben Stow||1:43 a.m.||6:43 a.m.|
|Thomas Aiken, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Bud Cauley||1:54 a.m.||6:54 a.m.|
|Mikko Ilonen, Brooks Koepka, Ashun Wu||2:05 a.m.||7:05 a.m.|
|David Duval, Bernd Wiesberger, Chris Wood||2:16 a.m.||7:16 a.m.|
|Scott Stallings, Stewart Cink, Richard McEvoy||2:27 a.m.||7:27 a.m.|
|K.J. Choi, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Jimmy Walker||2:38 a.m.||7:38 a.m.|
|Ben Curtis, Shane Lowry, Rafael Cabrera-Bello||2:49 a.m.||7:49 a.m.|
|Jonas Blixt, Brian Davis, Graham Delaet||3 a.m.||8 a.m.|
|Robert Garrigus, John Senden, Marc Warren||3:11 a.m.||8:11 a.m.|
|Martin Kaymer, Garrick Porteous, Jason Day||3:22 a.m.||8:22 a.m.|
|Carl Pettersson, Jason Dufner, David Lynn||3:33 a.m.||8:33 a.m.|
|Bubba Watson, Nicolas Colsaerts, Dustin Johnson||3:44 a.m.||8:44 a.m.|
|Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Fred Couples||4 a.m.||9 a.m.|
|Justin Rose, Ernie Els, Brandt Snedeker||4:11 a.m.||9:11 a.m.|
|Ian Poulter, Keegan Bradley, Billy Horschel||4:22 a.m.||9:22 a.m.|
|Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Richard Sterne, Nick Watney||4:33 a.m.||9:33 a.m.|
|Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Phil Mickelson||4:44 a.m.||9:44 a.m.|
|Scott Piercy, Tim Clark, Kevin Streelman||4:55 a.m.||9:55 a.m.|
|Zach Johnson, Shingo Katayama, Thomas Bjorn||5:06 a.m.||10:06 a.m.|
|Angel Cabrera, Camilo Villegas, Tano Goya||5:17 a.m.||10:17 a.m.|
|George Coetzee, Ken Duke, Mark Calcavecchia||5:28 a.m.||10:28 a.m.|
|John Huh, Brendan Jones, Hyung-Sung Kim||5:39 a.m.||10:39 a.m.|
|Josh Teater, Steven Tiley, Jimmy Mullen||5:50 a.m.||10:50 a.m.|
|K.T. Kim, Steven Jeffress, Luke Guthrie||6:01 a.m.||11:01 a.m.|
|John Wade, Gareth Wright, Makoto Inoue||6:12 a.m.||11:12 a.m.|
|Danny Willett, Y.E. Yang, Johnson Wagner||6:33 a.m.||11:33 a.m.|
|Thaworn Wiratchant, Lucas Glover, Oscar Floren||6:44 a.m.||11:44 a.m.|
|Boo Weekley, Sandy Lyle, Niclas Fasth||6:55 a.m.||11:55 a.m.|
|Marcus Fraser, Grant Forrest, Mark O'Meara||7:06 a.m.||12:06 p.m.|
|Tom Lehman, Thongchai Jaidee, Fredrik Jacobson||7:17 a.m.||12:17 p.m.|
|Justin Leonard, Rhys Pugh, Marc Leishman||7:28 a.m.||12:28 p.m.|
|Alvaro Quiros, Kyle Stanley, Alexander Noren||7:39 a.m.||12:39 p.m.|
|Russell Henley, Jordan Spieth, Matthew Fitzpatrick||7:50 a.m.||12:50 p.m.|
|Padraig Harrington, Michael Thompson, Richie Ramsay||8:01 a.m.||1:01 p.m.|
|Vijay Singh, Darren Clarke, Martin Laird||8:12 a.m.||1:12 p.m.|
|Ryan Moore, Henrik Stenson, Steven Fox||8:23 a.m.||1:23 p.m.|
|Thorbjorn Olesen, Jim Furyk, Paul Lawrie||8:34 a.m.||1:34 p.m.|
|Geoff Ogilvy, Harris English, Stephen Gallacher||8:45 a.m.||1:45 p.m.|
|Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia||9:01 a.m.||2:01 p.m.|
|Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Luke Donald||9:12 a.m.||2:12 p.m.|
|Rickie Fowler, Matteo Manassero, Hunter Mahan||9:23 a.m.||2:23 p.m.|
|Peter Hanson, Hiroyuki Fujita, Bill Haas||9:34 a.m.||2:34 p.m.|
|Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen||9:45 a.m.||2:45 p.m.|
|Webb Simpson, Branden Grace, Jamie Donaldson||9:56 a.m.||2:56 p.m.|
|Francesco Molinari, Toru Taniguchi, Bo Van Pelt||10:07 a.m.||3:07 p.m.|
|D.A. Points, Brett Rumford, Marcel Siem||10:18 a.m.||3:18 p.m.|
|George Murray, Mark Brown, Justin Harding||10:29 a.m.||3:29 p.m.|
|Gregory Bourdy, Scott Jamieson, Shiv Kapur||10:40 a.m.||3:40 p.m.|
|Scott Brown, Satoshi Kodaira, Gareth Maybin||10:51 a.m.||3:51 p.m.|
|Tyrrell Hatton, Eduardo de la Riva, Kenichi Kuboya||11:02 a.m.||4:02 p.m.|
|Stephen Dartnall, Darryn Lloyd, Daisuke Maruyama||11:13 a.m.||4:13 p.m.|
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