- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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Beginning with a threesome of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson, the United States Golf Association put together several eye-opening groupings in the starting times announced Thursday for next week's U.S. Open.
Woods, who will be pursuing his fourth U.S. Open title, will tee off with Mickelson and Watson at 10:33 a.m. ET June 14 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. They will start their second round at 4:29 p.m. ET on Friday.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy will be on the other side of the draw on Thursday, starting at 1:29 p.m. off the first tee. The world's second-ranked player, McIlroy is grouped with No. 1 Luke Donald and No. 3 Lee Westwood.
The trio of Woods, Mickelson and Watson will begin play on the ninth hole, and that is not a typo.
Due to the proximity of the ninth tee to the Olympic Clubhouse, the U.S. Open will send players off holes No. 1 and No. 9 (instead of 10) during the first two rounds. The first tee time is at 10 a.m. off the ninth tee with Shane Bertsch, Martin Flores and Tommy Biershenk.
Fresh off his 73rd career PGA Tour victory at last weekend's Memorial, Woods rarely has been paired with Mickelson during the first two rounds of events. The duo played together earlier this year during the final round at Pebble Beach, where Mickelson's closing 64 earned him his 40th career title.
The last time Woods and Mickelson played together during a major championship was in the fourth round of the 2009 Masters. They were grouped together during the first two rounds of Woods' last major victory, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, where the USGA grouped several players by their world rankings.
Woods and Mickelson, a five-time U.S. Open runner-up, have played together 30 times in PGA Tour events. Woods holds a 14-13-3 edge in the head-to-head matchup.
Some of the USGA's other star-studded groupings include:
Four spots in the 156-player field are to be determined Sunday at the close of the official World Golf Rankings. The top 60 in the world not otherwise exempt will earn a spot. If those four places are not needed, the USGA will determine alternates from the various sectional qualifying tournaments.
Tiger Woods has been grouped with Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open.