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Masters champions at home at Muirfield Village

Masters champion Mike Weir should feel right at home in the Memorial.

The tournament created by Jack Nicklaus looks a lot like the major championship Nicklaus won a record six times, although Muirfield Village will never be mistaken for Augusta National.

The caddies wear white coveralls.

There are no electronic leaderboards, only scoreboards attached to the trees behind each green.

Tournament committee members wear green jackets.

The course is in immaculate condition, as always, and Nicklaus is constantly tinkering to make it better.

"Jack is just trying to make this a first-class event, just like the Masters," Weir said. "You have to putt the ball well here and the premium is on iron play, just like Augusta is."

That doesn't make Weir the favorite in the Memorial, where he has never finished within seven strokes of the lead.

Tiger Woods returns to the PGA Tour for the first time since the Masters, and he practically owns Muirfield Village. Woods won three straight times, a streak that ended last year when he shot a 66 in the final round to climb into a tie for 22nd.

Weir and Woods share something in common besides a green jacket. Both are playing for only the second time since the Masters.

Woods was in Germany two weeks ago for the Deustche Bank-SAP Open, where he finished nine strokes behind in a tie for 29th, the first time he has finished out of the top 15 in a non-PGA Tour event.

"I feel pretty good because I hit the ball really well in Germany," Woods said. "The greens over there weren't like this, so I'm pretty excited to be able to putt on smooth greens again."

Weir has played only the Wachovia Championship three weeks ago, where he was befuddled by the speed of the greens and finished six strokes behind in a tie for 18th.

Both of them have the U.S. Open on their mind.

"I spent a little time in California with my coach working on my game," Weir said. "I have him out here to fine tune a few things and try to prepare for this tournament and get ready for the U.S. Open."

Woods went one step further, sneaking over to Olympia Fields outside Chicago on Tuesday for a practice round at this year's U.S. Open course.

It will be the first time in his career that Woods has played only twice between the Masters and the U.S. Open, but he's not worried.

"My practice sessions have been pretty good," he said. "If my practice sessions haven't been good, then there is a little bit more concern. But the way I struck the ball in Germany, and the way I'm hitting it now, I'm very pleased. I just need to get on some good greens."

Weir says he might be a little rusty, but he's mentally fresh.

Winning the Masters, the first major championship by a Canadian male, has come with a few distractions. He dropped the opening puck at a Stanley Cup playoff game in Toronto and turned down a request to be on the David Letterman Show.

"I'm ready to start playing again," Weir said. "I'm more motivated to do well and make this a real special year. I don't feel any complacency. I want to keep pushing."

Seven of the top 10 players are at the Memorial, including Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and defending champion Jim Furyk.

Missing is Davis Love III, who withdrew because of a death in the family. Love is leading the PGA Tour money list by $422,000 over Weir, and Woods is a distant third.

This is new territory for Woods, who has had a comfortable lead this deep in the season every year since 1999.

Don't get the idea he's worried. Woods sees the season as being only four months old, not five months from being over.

"I look at the fact that I've only played in six tournaments," Woods said. "That's the positive side. Now I can play more and see how I am after the summer."

Of greater concern is his driving - he ranks 47th in driving distance on the PGA Tour. Dissatisfied with that, Woods used a TaylorMade driver in the final round at the Deustche Bank.

"That was just an experiment," he said. "I just wanted to mix it up a little bit. It's not like I haven't tried anything before at home; I've tried all the different brands. I just wanted to try one in competition."

The result?

"It had a nice flight to it," he said.

Still, a new Nike prototype was in his bag Wednesday, and Woods said he likes it.

Driving is a big key to winning at Muirfield, which is 7,265 yards and usually plays every bit of that because of rain. Only three times in the last 14 years has a round not been suspended by rain.

"Jack gives us a chance to drive the ball here," Woods said. "You have to be pretty precise on your iron shots coming into the green, but he gives you a chance to hit your driver. I think that's one of the reasons you see so many long hitters doing well."

That's what they say about the Masters.

 

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