(Reuters) - World number one Tiger Woods, second-ranked Rory McIlroy and Masters champion Adam Scott will form a mouth-watering grouping for the first two rounds of next week’s U.S. Open in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
For the third consecutive year, the top three players in the world rankings have been drawn together at the year’s second major, a popular ploy that generates plenty of hype and attracts huge galleries during tournament week.
Woods, who will be seeking his first major title since he won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in a playoff, is a heavy favorite for the June 13-16 championship at Merion Golf Club after winning four times in eight starts on the 2013 PGA Tour.
American Woods, Northern Irishman McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, and Australian Scott will start Thursday’s opening round at Merion off the first tee at 1:14 p.m. (1714 GMT).
The heavyweight trio will then set off from the 11th tee at 7:44 a.m. in Friday’s second round.
In keeping with tradition, tournament officials have placed defending champion Webb Simpson in the same group as the British Open champion and the reigning U.S. Amateur winner.
American Simpson will tee off from the first hole at 1:36 p.m. on Thursday in the company of South African Ernie Els, a twice former U.S. Open champion, and amateur Steven Fox.
In other high-profile groupings, former world number ones Luke Donald and Lee Westwood of England have been paired up with Martin Kaymer of Germany while U.S. Ryder Cup players Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson will play alongside fellow long hitter Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium.
South Africans Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Tim Clark have been grouped together, as have leading Americans Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley.
American world number four Matt Kuchar, among the favorites at Merion after winning last week’s Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, will tee off with fifth-ranked Englishman Justin Rose and sixth-ranked American Brandt Snedeker.
Simpson will defend the title he clinched by one shot last year at Olympic Club outside San Francisco after overhauling overnight leaders Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.
Intriguingly, former champions Furyk (2003) and McDowell (2010) have been grouped together at Merion, with American Zach Johnson, in a trio of medium-length hitters.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)
This story has been refiled to fix time in fourth paragraph