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