Simon Dyson will launch his defence of the Irish Open alongside local hero Graeme McDowell and three-time Major Champion Padraig Harrington when the first round gets underway at Royal Portrush Golf Club on Thursday.
Dyson, who claimed his fifth European Tour title at the 2011 Irish Open at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club 12 months ago, is looking to become the sixth man in the history of the tournament to record back-to-back victories in the event, and with it join a select club that includes golfing legends Sir Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie.
The Englishman takes to the Dunluce Links among the early starters at 7.50am on Thursday morning with 2010 US Open Champion McDowell, who was born just minutes away from Portrush Golf Club, and the ever-popular Irishman Padraig Harrington.
The two groups following the defending champion, meanwhile, will also retain local interest as Ballymoney-born Michael Hoey – already a winner this year at the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco – tees it up at 8am, before newly-crowned Amateur Champion Alan Dunbar, the latest in a long line of Northern Irish golfing stars, makes his second start in a professional event at 8.10am.
Also returning to his native land for the first Irish Open to be held in Northern Ireland for almost 60 years is current World Number Two Rory McIlroy, who tees off at 12.50pm alongside Branden Grace and tournament debutant and US PGA Champion Keegan Bradley. Grace has undoubtedly been one of the stories of the season so far, having already claimed three victories this year since gaining his European Tour card at the Qualifying School last December.
Open Champion Darren Clarke, who lives in the hills overlooking Portrush Golf Club, is drawn in the group preceding compatriot McIlroy at 12.40pm alongside Ryder Cup star Francesco Molinari and Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello, while Gareth Maybin launches the triumvirate of Northern Irish stars in succession when he tees off at 12.30pm on Thursday.
Scotland’s George Murray will have the honour of hitting the first tee shot in the 57th edition of the Irish Open at 7.30am on Thursday morning, and with a parade of stars to follow it promises to be a thrilling week.