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Memorial draws one of the years best fields

A star-studded field tees off at the Memorial on Thursday, but most eyes will be on one particular group.

Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, the world's top-ranked golfers, play the first two rounds in a threesome with Joey Sindelar at Muirfield Village.

Woods says it is the first time he has been drawn to play with Singh since the final round of the American Express Championship in October.

There is no love lost between the two, and few words were spoken on that day, when Woods emerged victorious.

"We just play our games," Woods said. "We're trying to win a tournament."

Singh has made no secret of his desire to displace Woods at the top of the world rankings, and he has drawn increasingly closer over the past year, although he still is nearly two points behind, 12.31 to 10.42.

But a victory here against a field that includes nearly everyone of note except Masters champion Phil Mickelson would considerably help the Fijian's cause.

While the Memorial is one of the more prestigious events on the PGA Tour, many players have one eye looking two weeks down the track to Shinnecock Hills, site of the U.S. Open.

This is expected to be Woods' last start before the Open. He has finished one shot out of a playoff in his past two events, despite some wayward tee shots. And while Woods construes that as a positive, his inconsistent driving is unlikely to get the job done at Shinnecock, where the rough is expected to be severe.

"I'm close with everything," Woods said. "You can see signs of it, piece by piece. You have to be out there watching me day after day in order to see the steady progress I've made."

While Woods is doing most of his Open preparation on the practice tee, Ernie Els is trying to play his way into form. This will be his fourth tournament in as many weeks, and the Open will be his sixth competitive week in a row.

"I'm hitting the ball quite nicely and my short game is getting a little better, so I can't complain," said the South African, ranked third in the world. "It seems if I get my putting under 30 putts a round, I'm going to shoot not a bad score.

"I've got to get more consistent with the putter. I've always been a pretty good putter, but never a great one."

Two weeks ago, Els said he would like to see long putters banned, because they do not require a traditional golf shot. His comments have drawn much response, most of it good humored, from some of the devotees of the long wand, Singh included.

"I've known these guys most of my career and they've been kidding around with me a bit," Els said. "Nothing personal against them, but I just don't believe that's the way golf was supposed to be played.

"It's become quite a big issue, but I've spoken to Peter Dawson (head of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, which sets the rules everywhere except the United States and Mexico), and they can't ban it."

Els has never won the Memorial, but Woods has, three times in a row from 1999-2001.

Kenny Perry is the defending champion, his victory last year coming in the midst of a personal hot streak, during which he won three times in four starts. He also won here in 1991.

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