McIlroy, Fowler, Kaymer grouped at Irish Open

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Royal County Down will provide a picturesque backdrop this week as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open heads to Northern Ireland. Here are four groups to watch in early-round play, where a former Walker Cup matchup will be rekindled (all times ET):

Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Miguel Angel Jimenez: 2:50 a.m. Thursday, 7:50 a.m. Friday 

McDowell will have plenty of support this week from the Northern Irish crowds, and he'll play the first two rounds alongside a pair of European Tour veterans. Westwood is making his first appearance in this event since 2009, while Jimenez enters off a pair of runner-up finishes in the last two weeks at the Open de Espana and BMW PGA Championship - having made a hole-in-one at each event.


Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Martin Kaymer: 3 a.m. Thursday, 8 a.m. Friday

McIlroy and Fowler crossed paths at Royal County Down during the 2007 Walker Cup, and now the two will meet again for the first two rounds as McIlroy looks to rebound from a missed cut at Wentworth. Fowler is making his first start since a dramatic playoff win at The Players Championship, and they'll be joined by Kaymer, the reigning U.S. Open champ.


Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Mikko Ilonen: 7:50 a.m. Thursday, 2:50 a.m. Friday

This group features three former winners of this event: Garcia burst onto the scene with a win in 1999, Harrington won in 2007 before capturing a pair of majors and Ilonen won last year at Fota Island. Harrington is teeing it up after narrowly missing out on U.S. Open qualifying on Monday despite a shoulder injury, while Garcia is back in action after skipping last week's event at Wentworth.


Ernie Els, Shane Lowry, Francesco Molinari: 8 a.m. Thursday, 3 a.m. Friday

Els is making a rare appearance in this event, having last teed it up in 1998 when he finished T-33. He'll be joined by Lowry, who earned a dramatic playoff win at this event as an amateur in 2009, and Molinari, who was a runner-up two weeks ago in Spain and held the lead after each of the first three rounds at Wentworth before fading on Sunday.