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Woods starts late; Rory, Phil off early at British Open

Three-time British Open champion Tiger Woods will have his left elbow tested this week at Muirfield Golf Club as he starts later on Thursday and early on Friday.

Woods, who hasn't won a major championship since the 2008 U.S. Open, will play alongside fellow major champions Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen for the first two rounds. The three will start at 9:45 a.m. ET on Thursday, then come back Friday morning at 4:44 a.m. Woods, who first hurt his elbow at the Players Championship, hasn't played since the U.S. Open at Merion.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 5 Phil Mickelson are paired together at the end of a six-group stretch that will be among the feature groups early Thursday and late Friday.

McIlroy and Mickelson, the latter coming off his first official European Tour win at the Scottish Open, will play alongside Japanese sensation Hideki Matsuyama, who was the Asian Amateur champion in 2010 and 2011, and has two Japan Tour wins in eight starts this year. They start opposite Woods at 4:44 a.m. Thursday and 9:45 a.m. Friday.

The five groups leading up to that trio start at 3:44 a.m. Thursday with the big-hitting threesome of Bubba Watson, Nicolas Colsaerts and Dustin Johnson. After an open tee time, three Hall-of-Famers will start at 4:00 a.m. -- reigning Senior British Open champ Fred Couples, five-time Open winner Tom Watson and three-time titlist Nick Faldo, who won two of his claret jugs at Muirfield.

Defending champion Ernie Els, who also won in 2002 the last time Muirfield hosted the Open Championship, follows with U.S. Open champ Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker. Former PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley headlines the next group, as he is paired with fellow American Billy Horschel and Ian Poulter.

The final threesome before McIlroy and Mickelson's group includes a trio looking for their first major championship title -- Nick Watney, Richard Sterne and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

There is a similar lead into Woods' group with four strong threesomes starting in front of the world No. 1. At 9:01 a.m. Thursday, former Masters winner Charl Schwartzel will start alongside Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia.

Reigning Masters champion Adam Scott is in the next group with Matt Kuchar and Luke Donald, a grouping of three of the top nine players in the world. Scott was in line to win the claret jug last year, but bogeyed the final four holes to lose by one to Els.

Americans Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler will play the opening two rounds with Matteo Manassero in the next group. The threesome in front of Woods' group includes Peter Hanson, Hiroyuki Fujita and Bill Haas. Former U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson follows Woods and is grouped with Branden Grace and Jamie Donaldson.

Jordan Spieth, who won the John Deere Classic to earn the last spot in the field, starts at 7:50 a.m. Thursday and will play with Russell Henley and amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick.

The last time the British Open was played at Muirfield was 2002. Els won the title that year in a playoff over Steve Elkington, Thomas Levet and Stuart Appleby, none of whom qualified to play this week.

Play gets underway at 1:32 a.m. ET Thursday, when Peter Senior hits the first tee shot. He is paired with Scotland's Lloyd Saltman and England's Oliver Fisher. The final threesome in the opening round to hit the course at 11:13 a.m. is Stephen Dartnall, Darryn Lloyd and Daisuke Maruyama.