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McIlroy grouped with Spieth, Day at Players

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One of the best fields in golf will feature the top two players in the world side by side for at least two days at TPC Sawgrass. Here are four groups to keep an eye on Thursday at The Players Championship (all times Eastern): 

8:39 a.m.: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day

A McIlroy-Spieth showdown at the WGC-Match Play never came to pass, but the top two players in the world will take their budding rivalry to the Stadium Course. The winners of the last three major championships will be joined by world No. 7 Jason Day, who struggled to an 0-3 ouster last week in San Francisco. While Spieth also failed to make it out of the group stage, he did play his three matches a combined 15 under, turning in better golf than McIlroy, who ended up winning. Spieth will likely welcome a return to stroke play.

1:17 p.m.: Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson

Rose, the winner two weeks ago at the Zurich, is in search of another piece of hardware to further fill his trophy room, while Dustin Johnson looks to continue a run of high-quality play that culiminated with a WGC victory at Doral. Those two are joined by Zach Johnson, who finished runner-up to Matt Kuchar in 2012.

1:38 p.m.: Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and K.J. Choi

This trio of past champions has had very mixed success of late. Mickelson seems now to peak only for the biggest events - the PGA Championship and the Masters, most recently - and has missed cut the last two years in a row. Garcia hasn't won on American soil since 2010, although he did work himself into the mix at Sawgrass back in 2013, before running into Tiger Woods on the weekend and melting down. Choi's three results since his 2011 victory are as follows: MC, T-48, T-13.

1:49 p.m.: Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Martin Kaymer

The last two defending champions, Woods and Kaymer, will tee it up with 2004 champ. Woods missed The Players last year because of injury, so he'll theoretically be mounting a simultaneous title defense with Kaymer. The Woods-Scott dynamic also shifts now that Steve Williams has entered into retirement. Woods will be making his first start since the Masters and just his second in his return from a self-imposed hiatus to resurrect his game.