(Reuters) - World number one Adam Scott and fellow major winners Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel will form an eye-catching grouping for the first two rounds of next week’s U.S. Open in Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Australian Scott, American Watson, who has earned the coveted Masters green jacket twice in the past three years, and South African Schwartzel will start Thursday’s opening round at Pinehurst off the first tee at 1:25 p.m. (1725 GMT).
The heavyweight trio will then set off from the 10th tee at 7:40 a.m. in Friday’s second round.
Scott, who will be seeking his second major title after clinching his first at last year’s Masters, is among the favourites for the June 12-15 championship at Pinehurst’s No. 2 Course after winning four times in his last 17 starts worldwide.
For the first time in four years, organisers avoided the temptation to put the top three players in the world rankings together, a popular ploy that had generated plenty of hype and attracted huge galleries during previous U.S. Opens.
While top-ranked Scott and world number three Watson have been grouped together, Swede Henrik Stenson (second) will play the first two rounds in the company of American Matt Kuchar (fifth) and England’s Lee Westwood, a former world number one.
In keeping with tradition, tournament officials have placed defending champion Justin Rose of England in the same group as the British Open champion and the reigning U.S. Amateur winner.
Rose will tee off from the 10th hole at 7:51 p.m. on Thursday along with American Phil Mickelson, a five-times major winner who is seeking his first U.S. Open crown after a record six runner-up finishes, and amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick.
In other high-profile groupings, former U.S. Open champions Webb Simpson (2012), Rory McIlroy (2011) and Graeme McDowell (2010) have been drawn together while Spaniard Sergio Garcia will play with Australian Jason Day and American Brandt Snedeker.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, the world number six, is widely viewed as a leading contender at Pinehurst after winning the European Tour’s flagship BMW Championship last month.
Last year’s PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner has been drawn with two other former champions at the season’s final major, and will tee off in the company of fellow American Keegan Bradley (2011) and Germany’s Martin Kaymer (2010).
In another group, three former British Open champions have been put together with Ernie Els (2002 and 2012) set to play alongside fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen (2010) and Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke (2011)
Rose will defend the title he clinched by two shots last year at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania where he overhauled 54-hole leader Mickelson in the final round.
Three-times champion and world number four Tiger Woods will be a notable absentee next week as he continues to recover back surgery.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry