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Woods drawn to star in Masters late show

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - South Korean KJ Choi and American Matt Kuchar will have to contend with the Tiger Woods frenzy after being grouped with the world number one for the first two rounds of the U.S. Masters on Thursday and on Friday.

Scandal-hit Woods, a four-times champion at Augusta National, will be making his highly anticipated return to professional golf after a self-imposed exile of almost five months.

The 34-year-old American has not competed since winning the Australian Masters on November 15 following startling revelations that he had a string of extra-marital affairs.

Predictably, the comeback of Woods has overshadowed everything else in the build-up to the year's first major and he is scheduled to tee off with Choi and Kuchar at 1342 local (1742 GMT) in Thursday's opening round at Augusta, the penultimate group.

"A lot has happened in my life over the past five months, and I'm here at the Masters to play and compete. And just really excited about doing that."

Woods and company will tee off in the second-to-last group on Thursday, guaranteeing that at least half of his opening round will be televised live in the United States.

Twice Masters champion Phil Mickelson has been drawn with Australian Robert Allenby and 2008 PGA Championship winner Yang Yong-eun of South Korea for the first two rounds. They start at 1035 (1435) on Thursday.

In-form Ernie Els, who has triumphed twice in his last three PGA Tour appearances, will tee off with American Anthony Kim and Japan's Ryo Ishikawa two groups in front of Mickelson and company.

In another high-profile grouping, three-times major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland will set off in the company of British Open champion Stewart Cink and South African Charl Schwartzel at 1320.

First off at 0750, following ceremonial tee shots by golfing greats Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, will be Australian Nathan Green, American Heath Slocum and South African Louis Oosthuizen.

(Editing by Jon Bramley)