Thursday, June 3, 2004

Woods, Singh share time at Memorial

Top players in same tee group

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DUBLIN, Ohio - Whoever made these tee groupings likes slow walks in the park, because that is what it will be for the first round of the Memorial Tournament today and the second round Friday.

The gallery will be huge for Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world, respectively. They tee off together at 1:20 p.m. today and 10:20 a.m. Friday. Also in that trio is Joey Sindelar.

Singh has said repeatedly that his goal this year is to be No. 1 in the world, and one doesn't get there without going through Woods.

Woods doesn't expect there to be a lot of talking in this group. Although Woods and Singh get along fine off the course, on it they are a couple of grinders. Between the two, they don't have a thimbleful of what this year's Memorial honoree, Lee Trevino, had by the golf-bagful: gregariousness.

"When Vijay and I play, we just play our games," Woods said. "We're trying to win a golf tournament here ... We're competitors. Just because it's the first two days - we're trying to set ourselves up for Sunday, and we have a long way to go."

A heavy rain Tuesday and additional rain Wednesday has softened things up at Muirfield Village.

But Woods noted that the greens are healthier than ever, which means the greenskeepers can do more with them to make them fast, as long is it doesn't rain - which at the Memorial is like saying, as long the swallows don't return to Capistrano, everything ought to be hunky dory.

"It would be great if they were (fast), but more likely they won't be, because of how much rain has fallen," Woods said. "If we get low humidity, yeah, it could dry out by maybe Saturday or Sunday. (But) with higher humidity, I don't see the greens being that fast."

Woods' swing - along with his errant drives, of late - gets dissected, and his life (on and off the course) gets psychoanalyzed like that of no other player in the history of golf, because he is so good and his persona so transcendent in this information age. But Woods says he's close to putting it all together again - maybe even this week.

"I'm close with everything," he said. "It's just not my driver, it's my entire game. ... You can see signs of it, piece by piece. If you look at the steady progress I've made - you have to be out there watching me day after day in order to see it - (but ) if you haven't been out there, then you wouldn't see it."

There might be no golf course in the world - with the possible exception of Augusta National - where Woods feels so comfortable. Woods pulled a three-peat here in 2001, following his victories in 1999 and 2000. He owns the par-5s here.

Singh won here in 1997.

Kenny Perry, the defending champion, said the weather isn't the only thing that will be a factor this week. So will the cicadas, he said, and he wasn't kidding - he had two run-ins with them Tuesday that still had him buzzing Wednesday.

"On the eighth hole, I had the club pulled back about a quarter of the way and had one fly right under my arm ... and he just went right under my eyes ... and I kind of flinched as I hit it," Perry said. "It was a horrible golf shot. The other time, the guy (a pro-am player) putted a 15-footer and the ball hit one of those dudes and it (the ball) jumped in the air and stopped right beside (the cicada). It was the funniest thing I've ever seen."

There will be a lot of players during the tournament backing off shots and looking for cicadas in their putting lines, Perry said.

"They could actually play a role in this tournament," he said. "They could actually alter a shot. Somebody's shot is going to probably get altered, or (some player) is going to get distracted."

The player most awed by the cicada invasion was one of the biggest golf stars in the world: South African Ernie Els, who many feel is ripe to break through with a first-ever Memorial win.

"I thought we had some big bugs in Africa, but these things, they're noisy and they're large," Els said. "It's amazing. It's pretty weird, this thing. They're really loud, too. ... Don't put a yellow shirt on. They come after you."

Els is ranked No. 3 in the world. Also here is the world's fourth-ranked player, Davis Love III. Only when one dips to No. 5, Phil Mickelson, is there a vacancy at the Memorial. The Muirfield course is tough on lefties, but the cicadas are tough on everybody.

"If they (the cicadas) get the angle right with the sun, their shadow is huge and you actually get a bit of a fright," Els said. "You think something big is coming after you."

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