Woods, Mickelson headline star-studded pairings at U.S. Open

The stars will align, at least in the early going, at the U.S. Open.

The USGA released the top pairings on Wednesday for the start of the tournament on June 12 at Torrey Pines, and big names will be playing together the first two days.

World's No. 1 Tiger Woods will be paired with No. 2 Phil Mickelson and third-ranked Adam Scott. Woods and Mickelson played together once before at the U.S. Open, in the 1999's third round at Pinehurst. The late Payne Stewart won that year, with Mickelson second and Woods third.

Ernie Els, Justin Rose and Geoff Ogilvy make up another trio. Stewart Cink, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh will be together. And K.J. Choi,
Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker make up the other big-name grouping.

All told, the top 12 players in the world will be accounted for in the four groups.

Mike Davis, the senior director of rules and competition for the USGA, said the top 12 players will be grouped together and spread over the four various time slots -- starting on the first tee or 10th tee in the morning, and first tee or 10th tee in the afternoon.

The biggest stars usually are dispersed among the morning and afternoon times, largely at the behest of television. Davis said the USGA has been thinking about a major change over the past few months and decided to give it a try.

"Why not put them in the same wave?" Davis said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from San Diego. "The heck with what TV wants. Let's do what we want for the championship."

The last time Woods and Mickelson played together in the early rounds of a major was the 2006 PGA Championship, which traditionally groups the three major champions of that year -- Mickelson won the Masters, Ogilvy the U.S. Open and Woods the British Open.

But that was at Medinah outside Chicago.

The U.S. Open will be held at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson and Woods have perhaps their strongest fan base. Woods is a six-time winner at the Buick Invitational and grew up 90 miles up the road in Orange County. Mickelson is the local favorite, a San Diego native who played high school matches at Torrey Pines and won the Buick Invitational three times.

Not to be ignored is Scott, a 27-year-old Australian with model good looks who often draws plenty of women in his gallery.

"This year we got to thinking, 'Isn't it kind of crummy that we've never had the two guys ranked 1 and 2 in the world in the same wave?'" Davis said. "Weather can affect outcomes in the U.S. Open. It could be windy in the morning, or firm in the afternoon."

The original thought was to keep Woods and Mickelson near the same time, but as Davis spoke to USGA executive director David Fay and other executives, they decided to go a step further.

"What's wrong with putting 1 and 2 together, given their background at Torrey Pines?" Davis said.

From there, they decided to involve the top 12.

The U.S. Open traditionally groups the defending champion, the British Open champion and the U.S. Amateur champion. That would not be affected with Angel Cabrera at No. 22 in the ranking, Padraig Harrington at No. 14 and U.S. Amateur champion Colt Knost not in the field because he turned pro.

"If there was a right year to do it, this was it," Davis said, alluding to Woods' and Mickelson's history at Torrey Pines.

Woods and Mickelson played in the final group at Torrey Pines in the 2003 Buick Invitational, when Woods was coming off a two-month layoff from knee surgery. Brad Faxon also was in that group -- he was known as "Switzerland" that day -- and Woods closed with a 68 for a three-shot victory.

Adding to the hype is that Woods has not played since surgery on his left knee two days after the Masters.

But the super pairing has its risks.

Woods and Mickelson are the biggest draws, and Davis said traffic to the course and on the course could be a problem. There also is the possibility that everyone leaves when the stars are done.

"We all know how traffic can be in San Diego," Davis said. "That was a huge part of the equation. We all talked long and hard about it. And the end of the day, we felt we could make that work."

Davis said there was some trepidation among USGA officials that the idea would create havoc, but he felt it was worth a shot.

"In absolute honestly, it was never done for promotional reasons," he said. "It was done because these guys never get to play together. They always want them separate because of TV. We hope it's positive."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.