Rory McIlroy sets off in defence of his US Open title on Thursday afternoon in the group that contains the top three golfers on the planet. But even the World No.2 admits that he and World No.1 Luke Donald and No.3 Lee Westwood will have to be content with a co-staring role.

Top of the bill is the threeball of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Bubba Watson. “If I was a golf fan I’d want to watch that group because I’m sure you’ll see some fireworks,” McIlroy said.

As for his own star-studded threeball, McIlroy said he was looking forward to playing to a big crowd. “I like it. I think it really adds to the atmosphere and it gets you up for of course. When you’ve got a little bit of attention on your group it focuses your mind a little bit and you feel like you want to be really prepared from the first hole. Of course, having Tiger and Phil and Bubba in the same group on the opposite side of the draw is going to be huge,”

Donald said. How huge? Leave it to Watson to sprinkle another Bubba gem. “It’s going to be like Sunday at the Masters,” he said. “Huge galleries. We’re all going to try to be hitting these little fairways and these little greens and somehow two-putt. We’re not going to be focused on what each other is doing. But it will be fun, though, it’s two legends.”

And one who is fast becoming one – at least in a People’s Champion kind of way. “These are the people I grew up watching in high school,” Watson said. “Now getting to play with them. One is probably number one of all time and one is probably top five. So you’re going to learn a lot from them, seeing how they go about their business.”

Where next?
US Open betting guide
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US Open hole by hole