Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson paired

DORAL, Fla. -- It had almost become a running joke between them, the fact that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were rarely put together during the opening rounds of PGA Tour events, despite a supposedly random pairings process.

This week, the tour is making no secret of its desire to put together marquee groupings during the first rounds of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Woods and Mickelson, ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, will play with reigning U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, ranked fourth. They will start on Thursday at 11:51 a.m. ET from Doral's 10th tee, and then Friday at 12:54 p.m. from No. 1.

It will be just the 27th time since the beginning of Woods' first full season as a pro in 1997 that he and Mickelson have played together during any round on the PGA Tour. Their last pairing came during the final round of last year's BMW Championship.

For this World Golf Championship event, the top 21 players in the world have been grouped according to the rankings. No. 1 Martin Kaymer, No. 2 Lee Westwood and No. 3 Luke Donald make up a group. No. 7 Paul Casey, No. 8 Rory McIlroy and No. 9 Steve Stricker are in another.

Despite being at or near the top of the rankings for most of the past decade, Woods and Mickelson are almost never grouped together to start a tournament.

The last time it occurred during a non-major championship was at the 2007 Deutsche Bank Championship, where the pairings were based on FedEx Cup points. Prior to that, they were paired at the 2002 Tour Championship, which was based on the money list.

The only time a "random" first-round grouping of Woods and Mickelson occurred was at the 1998 Nissan Open at Valencia in Los Angeles.

Woods and Mickelson were involved in a couple of classic duels at Doral's TPC Blue Monster before the tournament here became a World Golf Championship event.

In 2005, Woods shot a final-round 66 to overtake Mickelson for the victory. A year later, they were grouped together in the third round and Woods went on to win that tournament.

Woods won the first WGC event here in 2007 and Mickelson won the 2009 title at Doral.

During their previous 26 rounds together, they each have bettered the other 11 times, with four ties.

Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com.