The world's top-ranked player won The Masters in April and the U.S. Open last month to become the first player to capture the first two legs of the Slam in the same year since Jack Nicklaus in 1972. Woods has now won eight major championship titles overall and six of the last nine played, and seven of the last 11.
Two more victories -- in this British Open and next month's PGA Championship -- and Woods will be the first player in history to win all four professional majors in the same season.
But, first things first. Woods will be paired with Japan's Shigeki Maruyama and Justin Rose of England in the opening two rounds. The trio will be the 12th group off the tee at 9:01 a.m. local time (4:01 a.m. ET) on Thursday. On Friday, they will tee off at 1:57 p.m. local time (8:57 a.m. ET).
Rd. 1 Tee Times for the 131st British Open
Maruyama won the 2001 Greater Milwaukee Open, making him the first Japanese player to win a PGA Tour event on the U.S. mainland (Isao Aoki won the 1983 Hawaiian Open). He added a victory at the Byron Nelson Classic back in May. His best British Open finish was a tie for 10th place at Royal Troon in 1997.
Rose made his presence felt as a 17-year-old at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, where he holed a pitch at the 72nd hole to tie for fourth, earning him the Silver Medal as the leading amateur. He turned professional the next day and, after struggling on the European Tour for a few years, broke into the winning ranks with a pair of victories earlier this season.
Ernie Els, who tied for second, eight strokes behind Woods, in the 2000 Open at St. Andrews, will head out a few groups before Woods and company with Lee Westwood and Brad Faxon. A two-time U.S. Open champ, Els has totaled six top-10 finishes in 11 British Open starts, including a tie for third last year.
Sergio Garcia is one on a small list of players, Els included, who pose a real threat to Woods' chances this week. The Spaniard's best Open showing was a tie for ninth last year, and is familiar with Muirfield as the British Amateur champion there in 1998.
Garcia will play alongside Greg Norman, the British Open champion in 1986 and '93, and Sweden's Robert Karlsson.
England's Nick Faldo, victorious three times in the British Open, won the 1987 title at Muirfield with 18 straight pars in the final round. After reeling in a second Open win at St. Andrews in 1990, Faldo won again in '92 in the last championship to be held at Muirfield.
Faldo, who turns 45 on Thursday, will celebrate his birthday playing with Americans Hal Sutton and Phil Mickelson. Sutton won the PGA Championship back in 1983, while Mickelson is still in search of his first victory in a major.
Mickelson has tallied 16 top-10 finishes in major championships, including seven top-threes. However, his best finish in the British Open was a tie for 11th in 2000, 12 shots back of Woods.
Two-time runner-up Jesper Parnevik of Sweden (1994, '97) will share the fairways the first two rounds with Vijay Singh, the PGA Champion in 1998 and Masters winner in 2000, and Jim Furyk.
Five-time British Open champion Tom Watson will be in the third pairing off the first tee bright and early Thursday morning (2:22 a.m. et) with Japan's Kiyoshi Miyazato and Australian Steve Elkington, who earned a spot in the field after completing the 36-hole final qualifier on Monday.
Other notable pairings include: 1997 champion Justin Leonard, Mike Weir and David Howell; 1995 winner John Daly, Adam Scott and Padraig Harrington; reigning PGA champion David Toms, Darren Clarke and Kevin Sutherland; Davis Love III, Colin Montgomerie and K.J. Choi; and Shingo Katayama, Thomas Bjorn and defending champion David Duval.
Duval, who posted a three-shot triumph last year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, comes into Muirfield in a bit of a slump. He's missed the cut in four of his last five starts, with the lone exception in that stretch being a season-best tie for fourth at the Memorial in late May.
Full coverage of the 131st British Open