By Kent Gray at Royal Birkdale

Mark O’Meara, the 127th Open champion at Royal Birkdale in 1998, will hit the opening shot of the 146th championship Thursday ahead of a tasty smorgasbord of opening round three-balls.

The 60-year-old American, who won the US Masters three months before edging fellow countryman Brian Watts in a playoff for the Claret Jug, is off at 6.35am local time (9.35am UAE time) alongside Ryan Moore and Chris Wood, the 2008 Open silver medallist as low amateur over the Southport links.

Defending champion Henrik Stenson is out with Jordan Spieth and South Korean Si-Woo Kim in the headline morning threesome at 12.47pm (all UAE times herewith) ahead of Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Rose and Justin Thomas at 12.58pm.

The other key morning group sees U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka end his post Erin Hills hiatus alongside world No.2 Hideki Matsuyama and Abu Dhabi and French Open champion Tommy Fleetwood, the local favourite.

The 1998 champion Mark O’Meara will hit the first shot Thursday

World No.1 Dustin Johnson is grouped with struggling Rory McIlroy and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel in the marquee afternoon three-ball at 5:48pm.  Mouthwatering groups beforehand include 2015 champion Zach Johnson, Jason Day and reigning  Dubai Desert Clasic and Masters champion Segio Garcia (4.04pm) and Rickie Flower, Adam Scott and Paul Casey (4.26pm).

There’s sure to be huge support for Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnson on Royal Birkdale’s first tee at 2.36pm  and big galleries following runaway Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion Jon Rahm, US Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed and Englishman Lee Westwood at 5.59pm.

Phil Mickelson, the 2013 champion at Muirfield, is out at late at 6.10pm just ahead of newly crowed Scottish Open champion and Golf in Dubai-based Rafa Cabrera-Bello, the Spaniard joined by two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and Aussie journeyman Scott Held at 6.21pm.

The long range forecast for Birkdale on Thursday is for a cloudy high of 16 degrees Celsius with westerly winds of 17mph gusting to 30mph. — Kent Gray travelled to The Open with Etihad Airways