Irish Open: Rory Mcllroy to play with Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm at Portstewart

Media playback is not supported on this device

Rory McIlroy won the 2016 Irish Open at the K Club

Tournament host Rory McIlroy will play with world number two Hideki Matsuyama and Spaniard Jon Rahm in the first two rounds of this week's Irish Open.

Japan's Matsuyama leapfrogged McIlroy in the rankings after finishing in a share of second place at the US Open while Rahm is the world number 11.

The trio, who will start at 13:20 BST on Thursday, are the highest-ranked players in the Portstewart field.

McIlroy is ranked fourth after Jordan Spieth's recent move up to third spot.

Matsuyama, the highest-placed Japanese golfer in the history of the world rankings, is making his debut in the £5.4m event in his first ever journey to Ireland.

The Japanese player has won four times on the PGA Tour including his successful defence of the Phoenix Open title this year.

Tiger Woods and Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama's remarkable conclusion to 2016 including his triumph in the Tiger Woods-hosted Target World Challenge

Matsuyama's remarkable conclusion to 2016

Matsuyama's Japan Open triumph last autumn started a remarkable run of four wins in five starts which included the World Golf Championship HSBC Champions event in Shanghai and the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

"When you look at what he has achieved, not just last year and already this year, but over the past few years it is impressive how he goes about his business," said McIlroy.

"He is a very hard worker and anytime you are on the practice range he always seems to always be there and it is the same scenario when you are on the practice putting green.

"I heard he was interested in playing some links golf ahead of the Open, so we got in touch with his management team saying that would love to have him compete at Portstewart and we would do anything to help in getting him to the tournament."

Last year's Masters champion Danny Willett will be in the next three ball off the first tee on Thursday at 13:30 with fellow Englishmen Matthew Fitzpatrick and Ian Poulter.

World number 22 Tyrrell Hatton will start 10 minutes before McIlroy alongside Lee Westwood and emerging Irish star Paul Dunne.

Media playback is not supported on this device

Justin Rose and Jon Rahm heap praise on Irish Open venue Portstewart

The 2011 Open champion, Darren Clarke, is also among the afternoon starters after being paired with 2015 Irish Open winner Soren Kjeldsen and England's Andrew 'Beef' Johnston.

Graeme McDowell has a morning tee time as he tees off from the 10th at 08:20 with Olympic champion Justin Rose and Sunday's French Open winner Tommy Fleetwood.

Padraig Harrington will start 10 minutes later alongside another veteran, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and European Ryder Cup player Andy Sullivan.

Jamie Donaldson, the winner at Royal Portrush in 2012, will play alongside another previous Irish Open champion Mikko Ilonen while Offaly man Shane Lowry will have European Ryder Cup players Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Thomas Pieters for company over the opening two rounds.

The 1990 Irish Open champion, Jose-Maria Olazabal, will be partnered by recent BMW International Open winner Andres Romero and American Peter Uihlein.

Last year's BMW PGA Championship Chris Wood has pulled out of this week's event because of a wrist injury but hopes to play in next week's Scottish Open.

THURSDAY'S DUBAI DUTY FREE IRISH OPEN TEE TIMES

Starting on the first hole

(all times BST)

07:30 - Raphael Jacquelin (Fra), David Howell (Eng), Stephen Gallacher (Sco)

07:40 - Matthew Southgate (Eng), Nathan Kimsey (Eng), Robert Rock (Eng)

07:50 - Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Matteo Manassero (Ita), Brandon Stone (SA)

08:00 - Daniel Brooks (Eng), Alexander Knappe (Ger), Simon Khan (Eng)

08:10 - Haydn Porteous (SA), Trevor Immelman (Rsa), Richie Ramsay (Sco)

08:20 - Nino Bertasio (Ita), Julien Quesne (Fra), Marc Warren (Sco)

08:30 - Paul Peterson (USA), David Horsey (Eng), Scott Hend (Aus)

08:40 - Paul Waring (Eng), Duncan Stewart (Sco), Bernd Ritthammer (Ger)

08:50 - Felipe Aguilar (Chi), Scott Jamieson (Sco), Justin Walters (SA)

09:00 - Oliver Fisher (Eng), Chris Hanson (Eng), Lasse Jensen (Den)

09:10 - Niclas Fasth (Swe), David Drysdale (Sco), Magnus A Carlsson (Swe)

09:20 - Richard Sterne (SA), Jordan Smith (Eng), Jorge Campillo (Spa)

09:30 - Neil O'Briain (Ire), Ashley Chesters (Eng), Thomas Aiken (SA)

12:30 - Jens Fahrbring (Swe), Romain Wattel (Fra), Daniel Im (USA)

12:40 - Joel Stalter (Fra), Maximilian Kieffer (Ger), Lucas Bjerregaard (Den)

12:50 - Michael Hoey (NI), Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), Robert Karlsson (Swe)

13:00 - Alexander Levy (Fra), Paul McGinley (Ire), Thongchai Jaidee (Tha)

13:10 - Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Lee Westwood (Eng), Paul Dunne (Ire)

13:20 - Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Rory McIlroy (NI), Jon Rahm (Spa)

13:30 - Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Ian Poulter (Eng), Danny Willett (Eng)

13:40 - Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Darren Clarke (NI), Andrew Johnston (Eng)

13:50 - Hideto Tanihara (Jpn), Haotong Li (Chn)

14:00 - Gregory Havret (Fra), Damien Perrier (Fra), Paul Lawrie (Sco)

14:10 - Ryan Fox (NZ), Pep Angles (Spa), Gary Hurley (Ire)

14:20 - Johan Carlsson (Swe), Damien McGrane (Ire), Adrian Otaegui (Spa)

14:30 - Gavin Moynihan (Ire), Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Marcus Armitage (Eng)

Starting at hole 10

07:30 - Chris Paisley (Sco), Alexander Bjork (Swe), Richard Kilpatrick (NI)

07:40 - Sam Brazel (Aus), Anthony Wall (Eng), Pablo Larrazabal (Spa)

07:50 - Jamie Donaldson (Wal), David Lipsky (USA), Mikko Ilonen (Fin)

08:00 - Jose-Maria Olazabal (Spa), Andres Romero (Arg), Peter Uihlein (USA)

08:10 - Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Shane Lowry (Ire), Thomas Pieters (Bel)

08:20 - Graeme McDowell (NI), Justin Rose (Eng), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng)

08:30 - Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa), Padraig Harrington (Ire), Andy Sullivan (Eng)

08:40 - Thomas Bjorn (Den), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Renato Paratore (Ita)

08:50 - Dylan Frittelli (SA), Alvaro Quiros (Spa), Jeunghun Wang (Kor)

09:00 - Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Shih-Chang Chan (Tpe), Joakim Lagergren (Swe)

09:10 - Marcus Fraser (Aus), Brett Rumford (Aus), Dean Burmester (SA)

09:20 - Marcel Siem (Ger), Peter Hanson (Swe), Jose-Filipe Lima (Por)

09:30 - Simon Thornton (Ire), Florian Fritsch (Ger), Sam Walker (Eng)

12:30 - Kristoffer Broberg (Swe), Darren Fichardt (SA), Richard Finch (Eng)

12:40 - Stuart Manley (Wal), Matthieu Pavon (Fra), Colm Moriarty (Ire)

12:50 - Sebastian Heisele (Ger), Alejandro Canizares (Spa), Thomas Detry (Bel)

13:00 - Fabrizio Zanotti (Par), Matt Wallace (Eng), Victor Dubuisson (Fra)

13:10 - S.S.P Chawrasia (Ind), Soomin Lee (Kor), Richard Bland (Eng)

13:20 - Ashun Wu (Chn), Andrew Dodt (Aus), Ricardo Gouveia (Por)

13:30 - Joost Luiten (Ned), Bradley Dredge, Gregory Bourdy (Fra)

13:40 - Jason Scrivener (Aus), Jaco Van Zyl (SA), Callum Shinkwin (Eng)

13:50 - Hennie Otto (SA), James Morrison (Eng), Simon Dyson (Eng)

14:00 - Rikard Karlberg (Swe), Graeme Storm (Eng), Gary Stal (Fra)

14:10 - David Higgins (Ire), Eduardo De La Riva (Spa), Romain Langasque (Fra)

14:20 - Wade Ormsby (Aus), Lee Slattery (Eng), George Coetzee (SA)

14:30 - Dermot McElroy (NI), Sebastien Gros (Fra), Nacho Elvira (Spa)

Top Stories