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PERRY FINDS HIMSELF IN POSITION TO WIN FOR SECOND STRAIGHT WEEK

DUBLIN, Ohio -- A grinder throughout his career, Kenny Perry is starting to make golf look awfully easy.

One week after winning Colonial with a record score, Perry surged into the lead Friday at the Memorial with a 4-under 68, capped by a birdie on the final hole that showed just how much everything is falling his way.

From the back of the green, 30 feet away and pinched between the fringe and first cut of rough, Perry used the belly of his sand wedge to get the ball rolling down the slick slope toward the hole. Halfway to the cup, he turned to the crowd, knowing the outcome.

"It was perfect," said Perry, who was at 11-under 133. "I just turned around to the fans and listened as it went in. They all hollered, so I knew it went in."

Retief Goosen and Lee Janzen, a pair of U.S. Open champions, each had a 67 and were one stroke behind going into today's third round (3 p.m., Ch. 4).

Tiger Woods, playing on the PGA Tour for the first time since the Masters, looked as though he might join the leaders when he hit a 4-iron into the wind to a flag tucked behind a bunker that set up a short eagle putt on No. 15.

It all came apart on the 18th, when he pulled his drive so badly that it hit a fan in the leg. He hit his approach over the green and was lucky his chip ran only 20 feet past the hole. He made bogey for a 71, and was five strokes behind.

Vijay Singh proved he belongs at Memorial. The '98 winner had a 69 and was at 8-under 136, along with B.C. Open champion Spike McRoy (68).

Singh was criticized for his comments about Annika Sorenstam playing Colonial -- "I hope she misses the cut" -- and declined to speak to reporters for the second straight day.

Perry had the 36-hole lead last week at Colonial, then shot 61 in the third round and cruised to a six-stroke victory at 19-under. He figured he would be known as the guy who won the PGA Tour event Sorenstam played, "but at least I'll be remembered for something."

Here's something else -- he might be the hottest player in golf.

"He's the guy to watch this weekend," Singh later said through a PGA Tour official.

There was nothing special about Perry's round. He holed a few 15-foot birdie putts, got up-and-down from the bunker for birdie on the par-5 15th and then put on a show with his belly wedge on the 18th.

Perry has won four times in his career, including the '91 Memorial, but never more than one tournament a year.

"I hope I stay asleep and play two more good rounds," he said. "It's hard to believe. Why am I pushing the right buttons right now at the right time? I don't know. I've got all the bounces going my way."

Charles Howell III was 10 strokes worse than his opening round, a 2-over 74 that left him at 6-under 138 with Woods and defending champion Jim Furyk.

"Hitting the ball in the fairway is such an advantage," Howell said. "That's really important for me, and I just didn't drive the ball in the fairway enough today."

Swirling wind and tough pin positions made it a little tougher at Muirfield Village, although that was a matter of perspective.

Jack Nicklaus birdied the last hole for a 72 and missed the cut by two shots. When he saw Ernie Els outside the scoring cabin, he asked how the Big Easy fared.

"Two over -- a 70," Els said with a laugh.

"That would be 2-under for me," Nicklaus replied. "Maybe 4-under."

At least one Nicklaus gets to play this weekend. Gary Nicklaus, the son of the tournament host playing on a sponsor's exemption, birdied two of the last three holes for a 75 and was at even-par 144.

Ahern birdies to lead

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jim Ahern birdied the 18th hole to cap an 8-under 64 and take the lead in the first round of the Champions' Tour Music City Championship.

Doug Tewell was alone in the lead early in the afternoon with a 65, but Ahern made a late charge as part of the third-to-last threesome and tied Tewell at 7-under on No. 15.

"I putted beautifully today," Ahern said.

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