Reigning major champs paired at Open

Tiger Woods will begin defense of his U.S. Open title on June 18 at Bethpage Black with an 8:06 a.m. (ET) pairing with Masters champion Angel Cabrera and PGA and British Open champion Padraig Harrington, according to the starting times released by the United States Golf Association.

In a departure from last year's format of putting together the first- and second-round pairings based on the Official World Golf Rankings, the USGA decided to go with the three reigning major champions. Woods, Cabrera and Harrington will go off the 10th tee at 1:36 p.m. on Friday, June 19.

Woods, who is coming off his second victory of the year at the Memorial, won last year's Open in a playoff over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Woods also won the last Open played at Bethpage in 2002.

Mediate, who finally lost on the 19th hole last year, will play the first two rounds with Kenny Perry and Tom Lehman, both of whom missed last year's Open.

Phil Mickelson, who is ranked No. 2 in the world and is playing despite the recent disclosure that his wife, Amy, has breast cancer, will tee off at 1:36 p.m. Thursday with South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, each of whom has won two U.S. Opens. Mickelson finished second to Woods in 2002 at Bethpage.

The USGA apparently had some fun with the groupings.

It put Fiji's Vijay Singh with India's Jeev Milka Singh (no relation) in a group with South Korea's K.J. Choi.

It put Argentina's Eduardo Romero with Argentina's Andres Romero (no relation) in another group along with Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez.

And this ought to be interesting for the scorekeepers: Denmark's Soren Kjeldsen, Denmark's Soren Hansen and Sweden's Peter Hanson will play together for the first two rounds.

Long hitters J.B. Holmes and Alvaro Quiros are in a group along with Nick Watney, while good friends Sergio Garcia and Camilo Villegas will play the first two rounds together along with Adam Scott.

There is also an all-France threesome of Thomas Levet, Jean-Francois Lucquin and Raphael Jacquelin.

There are 156 players in the field, with tee times beginning at 7 a.m. and running through 2:42 p.m.

Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com.