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Friday, January 7, 2005
Singh's 65 keeps him on top

Associated Press

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Standing on the 12th tee, Mike Weir gazed down at the Pacific and watched dozens of surfers riding one big wave after another. As he walked up the 14th green and saw the leaderboard at the Mercedes Championship, he saw someone riding a wave that was big even by Maui's standards.

Vijay Singh

There was Vijay Singh -- on top of his game, in the lead and showing no signs of letting up.

"It's just a given he's going to be there," Weir said.

The only surprise Friday in the second round was that Singh was kind enough to give the rest of the winners-only field a fighting chance.

The 41-year-old Fijian was 6 under par through seven holes and on the verge of turning the season-opening tournament into a blowout. Then the putts stopped falling until the final hole, when Singh made a 10-foot birdie putt for an 8-under 65 that gave him a two-shot lead over Weir.

"I just started off really well and kept it going," said Singh, who was at 15-under 131 after two rounds on the Plantation Course at Kapalua.

He'll have to continue if he wants to win.

Weir looked sharp, overcoming a three-putt bogey from 15 feet on No. 10 to shoot a 10-under 63. Ernie Els was another shot behind after a 65, also made it look easy. In fact, the Big Easy has never had a round over par in his 18 rounds at Kapalua.

"I just feel comfortable here," he said.

Tiger Woods feels anything but that. Woods is swinging better than he has in two years, and putting like he just picked up the game last week. Woods might be challenging Singh for the lead except for his difficulty on the greens, missing six birdie putts inside 8 feet on Friday in his round of 68 that left him five shots behind.

"If I average my normal putts per round like the rest of the year, I've got a shot at it," said Woods, who has taken 32 putts each of the first two days. "But hey, we've all got to do it."

And it can be done.

Weir made putts from a variety of distances in matching his score from the first round of 2002, just one shot off the course record at Kapalua. Defending champion Stuart Appleby shot a 9-under 64 that got him back into contention, six shots behind. Singh, the only player without a bogey this week, has certainly made his share.

Sergio Garcia and Jonathan Kaye each had 67 and were at 11-under 135, while Chad Campbell (67) and Stewart Cink (68) joined Woods at 136. Retief Goosen and David Toms were at 138.

Els isn't the only one who likes Kapalua.

Singh had his 16th consecutive round at par or better on the cliffside course, and he has never finished worse than eighth the last five times he has played.

"I think Vijay likes this course, obviously," Els said. "He has a very good record around here. He's got so much confidence now. A guy like Vijay, myself, Tiger, Retief, the longer hitters ... you can have some fun out there. You can really bomb it out there, unlike other golf courses we play on tour.

"Vijay is the perfect candidate to shoot a low one around here."

Singh is a good candidate anywhere these days. He is coming off an amazing season in which he won nine times, including a major, and earned nearly $11 million.

It is a scary thought to consider that a new year brought more of the same.

Even so, Els isn't willing to concede the tournament, the West Coast Swing, and certainly not the entire season.

"He's playing great golf. Let's not get that wrong," Els said. "But it's a long year. We can all play this game. I get my act together, it's game on. And the same with Tiger and some other people. If he beats me this week, 'Well played.' But there's another week, and there's a long year to go."

There's a long way to go this weekend.

The only thing that went wrong for Singh was putting the wrong driver in his bag. He discovered the mistake about 20 minutes before he teed off, and sent his caddie-trainer to fetch it.

Then, Singh stormed into the lead.

He holed a 15-foot putt on No. 1, hit his tee shot to 5 feet on No. 2, then hit a crisp iron over a gorge to 15 feet on the par-5 fifth hole for an eagle. That was followed by another short birdie, then a 60-foot putt from just off the green. His great run finally ended when he missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the eighth.

His lead was five shots at that point, although Singh cooled and several other players slowly made their move up the leaderboard to keep things interesting on the weekend.

"With the start he had, he could easily have put 4 or 5 under on that back nine and off he goes," Woods said. "At least I made a run and kept my spirits up a little bit."

Singh had a one-shot lead after 36 holes last year, but was overcome by Appleby and finished a shot behind. He knows the course well, and he knows there are low scores under the right conditions.

That's why it was so important to end a string of five pars with a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole, giving him one extra shot between Singh and the guys chasing him.