McDowell to start US Open defence alongside Oosthu

New York: Graeme McDowell will begin his US Open title defence next week alongside Louis Oosthuizen and top amateur Peter Uihlein while the world`s top three players were all put in the same group for the second major of 2011.

In keeping with tradition, tournament officials placed the defending champion in the same three-player group as the British Open champion and the reigning US Amateur winner for the June 16-19 tournament at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

The trio will be among the early starters next Thursday then have a late tee-off time Friday following the release of the draw for the 156-player field.

McDowell won the US Open at Pebble Beach last year after shooting a four round total of even-par while South African Oosthuizen was a runaway winner of the British Open at St Andrews.

The current world number one, Britain`s Luke Donald, was placed in the same group as his countryman Lee Westwood and Germany`s Martin Kaymer, pitting the top three players in the world together.

All three have taken turns at being number one this year after Tiger Woods relinquished his grip on the top spot but only Kaymer, who won last year`s PGA Championship, has bagged a major.

Woods is not playing at the US Open next week, the first time he has missed the national championship in 15 years, because of a knee injury.

American Phil Mickelson, who has finished runner-up at the US Open on five occasions but never won the title, was placed alongside the big-hitting Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. Johnson and McIlroy have both been in contention to win majors in the last months but came up short.

Several of the groupings were based on nationalities. Sergio Garcia was in the same group as fellow Spaniards Miguez Angel Jimenez and Alvaro Quiros, while the Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari were joined by their countryman Matteo Manassero.

Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa was playing with two other winners of the green jacket, Trevor Immelman, also of South Africa, and Zach Johnson.

South Africa`s Ernie Els, who won the last Open at Congressional in 1997, was placed in the same group as Davis Love III and Jim Furyk.

Bureau Report

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