Augusta, GA (Sports Network) - World No. 1 Tiger Woods will have fourth-ranked Luke Donald in his group when the 77th Masters opens Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club, while defending champion Bubba Watson will play alongside Ian Poulter.
Woods, a four-time Masters champion, has returned to the top spot in the world courtesy of three wins in five PGA Tour starts this season. Looking for his first victory in a major since capturing the 2008 U.S. Open title, the current FedEx Cup leader will tee off with Donald and Scott Piercy at 10:45 a.m. ET on Thursday and 1:41 p.m. ET on Friday.
Last year, aided by a miraculous shot from the pine straw, Watson parred the second playoff hole to defeat Louis Oosthuizen and secure his first major victory. He begins his title defense alongside Poulter and U.S. Amateur champ Steven Fox at 10:34 a.m. Thursday. That trio will come back at 1:30 p.m. on Friday.
World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, coming off a runner-up finish at the Texas Open, will go out with Keegan Bradley and Fredrik Jacobson at 1:41 p.m. Thursday and 10:34 a.m. Friday, while three-time Masters champ Phil Mickelson will play with Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer at 1:30 p.m. Thursday and 10:23 a.m. Friday.
McIlroy is hoping for a return to form after a sluggish start to the season, which included a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, a first-round loss at the World Golf Championships-Match Play Championship, and a surprising withdrawal at the Honda Classic.
"I got a lot out of last week, and obviously bringing a nice bit of confidence here this week," McIlroy said. "Last week wasn't about the golf swing. It was just about getting competitive play. I felt like I accomplished that."
Mickelson, meanwhile, will be searching for his fourth green jacket, having previously won in 2004, 2006 and 2010. Last year, the lefty entered Sunday one shot off the lead, but a disastrous triple bogey on the par-3 fourth led to a 72 and a tie for third place.
Other notable groupings for the first two rounds include: Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington (10:56 a.m. Thursday/1:52 p.m. Friday); former Masters champ Zach Johnson, Graeme McDowell and K.J. Choi (9:50 a.m. Thursday/12:57 p.m. Friday); and Brandt Snedeker, Justin Rose and Ryo Ishikawa (9:17 a.m. Thursday/12:24 p.m. Friday).
The tournament's first group is scheduled to tee off at 8 a.m. on Thursday. It consists of 1988 winner Sandy Lyle, John Peterson and amateur Nathan Smith.