McIlroy an early starter as U.S. Open hands first-tee honour to grandson of Palmer

The 119th U.S. Open got under way at Pebble Beach on Thursday and Rory McIlroy was aiming to make an early impact.

Action at the California course began at 6.45am local time (2.45pm BST), with players starting in groups of three from both the first and 10th tees.

A grandson of 1960 U.S. Open champion Arnold Palmer was given the honour of playing the opening tee shot at the first hole. Sam Saunders, a 31-year-old professional who is in the field after battling through qualifying in Columbus, Ohio, said in the build-up to the tournament he was “incredibly flattered” to be asked. Palmer, one of golf’s all-time greats, died in 2016.

McIlroy was due off at 7.51am, looking to end his major championship title drought which stretches back to 2014, when he won both the Open Championship and the US PGA Championship. He arrived at Pebble Beach buoyed by winning the Canadian Open in style last weekend courtesy of a final-round 61.

Among the afternoon starters was Brooks Koepka, seeking a third successive U.S. Open triumph. He won at Erin Hills in 2017 and Shinnecock Hills last year, and was due to begin his latest challenge at 1.47pm local time in the company of Norwegian debutant Viktor Hovland and Italian Francesco Molinari.

Masters champion Tiger Woods was due out after Koepka, at 2.09pm, playing in the headline group of the day with Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose.