Singh, Woods paired at The Memorial

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 3, 2004

DUBLIN, Ohio - For months, Vijay Singh has been stalking Tiger Woods. Now they finally will stare each other down in the same group.

Singh, No. 2 in the world, and the No. 1-ranked Woods are paired in the first two rounds of the Memorial Tournament, which begins Thursday.

Woods, mired in what for him is a drought, is talking as if he is relishing the showdown.

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''Things are starting to come together. I just need to go out there and be patient,'' said Woods, who won the Memorial three years in a row from 1999-2001.

Woods and Singh have not shared the same tee time since the first round of the Tour Championship in Houston. Neither hides the fact that he is not the other's biggest fan - which should make things interesting for Joey Sindelar, the third member of the group.

Singh has won three times this year to draw within 1.89 points of Woods in the world rankings.

Much like a heavyweight title fight, a lot of people have been waiting for the two to match shots in the same grouping.

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

Woods hasn't won in his last seven majors after winning seven of the previous 11. But it's not as if he's no longer competitive: he's won two of his last 12 tournaments, three of 18 and six of 27.

There are plenty of other subplots in the 105-player field, which will be serenaded by the screeching cacophony of cicadas making their first appearance at the tournament in 17 years. The unwelcome visitors will likely interrupt play by flying into players while they are in the midst of a swing or putt, not to mention drowning out the galleries in the leafier parts of the Muirfield Village course.

Another top contender figures to be South Africa's Ernie Els, No. 3 in the world. He won the Sony Open in January and finished second to Phil Mickelson at the Masters.

He's come close to winning at Muirfield Village before - four top-10 finishes including a second to Woods in 2000 - and would like nothing better than to pick up a win to fuel his run for a third U.S. Open title in two weeks at Shinnecock Hills.

Tournament founder and host Jack Nicklaus hinted he is close to saying goodbye to competitive golf. He has backed away from such pronouncements in the past, but appears committed to devoting more time to his family, fishing and many businesses instead of traipsing the world playing ceremonial golf.

''This will probably be my last week of playing what I consider tournament golf (this year),'' the 64-year-old said. ''It's been eight years since I won a golf tournament. Everything comes to an end somewhere.''

Moments later, however, the winner of 18 major championships spoke as if he was already plotting to take the tour back from players young enough to be his grandsons.

''Do I expect to beat these guys? Absolutely. That's my goal,'' he said. ''I'm going to beat as many of them as I can and hopefully beat them all. I don't think that's a realistic goal, but it's something that I would shoot for.''