McIlroy, Fowler paired at British Open

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland poses with the trophy after his eight-stroke victory on the 18th green during the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club on June 19, 2011 in Bethesda, Maryland.

SANDWICH, England – It won’t take Jerry Kelly long to see if his Open Championship experience at Royal St. George’s is better than the last time he was here.

To refresh memories, in 2003 Kelly got swallowed up by nasty rough at the first hole and even though he never lost a ball, he made an 11 and was 7 over par right out of the gates.

The good news is, the rough at that 444-yard opener appears to be far more manageable this time around. Kelly will get the first crack at it, too, because he has drawn the honor of hitting the opening tee shot for the 140th Open Championship. Paired with Nathan Green and Dann Willett, Kelly will begin things at 6:10 a.m.

Kelly’s position jumped out at you when the draw was released, though it’s hardly the most notable entry. Instead, the best highlights revolve around the marquee pairings. For instance, at 9:09, the betting favorite and latest rage because of his U.S. Open romp, Rory McIlroy, goes off with Ernie Els and Rickie Fowler. They will be followed immediately by the world’s No. 1, Luke Donald, with Ryo Ishikawa and a seemingly rejuvenated Sergio Garcia.

Later Thursday, a series of afternoon tee times include big names:

• At 1:43, Graeme McDowell goes off with Jason Day and Bubba Watson, who figures to get a lot of interest from journalists given his negative comments about his last trip to Europe (the French Open).

• At 2:10, the pairing of Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, and Charl Schwartzel will commence.

• Directly behind them will be defending champ Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, and Phil Mickelson – a trio that won three of the 2010 majors.

The amateur champions on each side of the pond get major champions as playing competitors – U.S. winner Peter Uihlein will go off at 8:09 with Geoff Ogilvy and Miguel Angel Jimenez; British winner Bryden Macpherson draws Padraig Harrington and Matt Kuchar at 1:21.

And finally, there’s Chih-Bing Lam. OK, so he’s not a “big” name, but he is noteworthy for one reason. Nine hours and 41 minutes after Kelly had delivered the opening tee shot, Lam draws the dubious distinction of giving Ivor Robson – the official first tee starter of the Open Championship – the green light to end his duties for the day. Lam will be the 156th and final golfer to leave the first tee Thursday.

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