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The people's champion getting into 'Claret' buzz

McIlroy's profile rose significantly in the wake of his courageous acceptance of last April's nightmare final-day implosion at Augusta ... and then rocketed as he lapped the field at Congressional.

Yet, in contrast to Tiger, the young Irishman feels in no need of extra protection.

While Woods had an unhappy habit of giving the public the slip by teeing off practice rounds long before the gates opened, McIlroy will play his first round of the week in mid-morning today.

"That's a great draw for the first two rounds," McIlroy said of his draw. "Should be a nice buzz on the first tee."

He and US Walker and Ryder Cup counterpart Fowler played together in the opening two rounds at Augusta, where the Ulsterman outscored the American by four strokes.

Padraig Harrington has been grouped with American hotshot Matt Kuchar and Amateur Champion Bryden Macpherson of Australia at 1.43 on Thursday (8.20 Friday).

Graeme McDowell will have impressive Aussie Jason Day and recent American werewolf in Paris, Bubba Watson, for company on Thursday (1.43) and on Friday (8.42), while Darren Clarke plays with Jonathan Byre and YE Yang at 12.59 (7.58).

Thomas Bjorn will get his chance of redemption at Sandwich.

Bjorn, who surrendered the lead and the Claret Jug to Ben Curtis as he took three to get out of a greenside bunker on his way to a treble-bogey six at 16 here in 2003, made it into the field last night as a last-ditch replacement for injured Vijay Singh ... ironically, they both tied third eight years ago.


Irish Independent