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Friday, March 22, 2013
Singh's style not to talk of substance

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- His gallery, if you can call it that, amount to a number less than the drinking age. As he teed off on the 12th hole of Bay Hill on Friday, orange-shirted tournament volunteers raised their arms in the universal "quiet, please'' gesture, but it was out of habit, not necessity.

Nobody, it seemed, cared that Vijay Singh was grinding his way up the Arnold Palmer Invitational leaderboard.

Singh shot a 4-under-par 68, which put him in a tie for seventh, just four strokes behind co-leaders Justin Rose and Bill Haas. Of course, that didn't stop a codger walking along a cart path to mutter to his friend, "There's Singh. As far as I'm concerned, they ought to throw him off the Tour.''

I stopped and asked him why he thinks Singh should be tossed.

Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh sits four strokes back after two rounds.

"Because of the antler spray,'' he snarled. "But mind your own business.''

Singh could win this tournament. And if he does, a trophy, a $1 million-plus check and a sport coat will go to a guy who might or might not be a cheater.

Good luck getting an answer from Singh or the PGA Tour on the subject. Mimes talk more.

In early February, Singh admitted that he knowingly used purported performance enhancer deer-antler spray but was unaware that it could have contained IGF-1, which is a banned substance with HGH-like properties. Why he was unaware is his own fault; the Tour issued warnings and directives on the spray.

Then again, at least one player told me earlier in the week that Tour literature is occasionally ignored. But the same player also mocked the supposed merits (healing, anti-aging) of deer-antler spray.

Singh is 50. He has spent his career trying to stiff-arm the effects of age. I've seen his power workouts. In fact, I'm not even sure he allows candles on his birthday cake.

So it doesn't surprise me that he tried deer-antler spray. It wouldn't surprise me if he tried tongue of a goat, cigarette-ash smoothies or potting-soil patties. He concedes nothing to the calendar.

But if he cheated, then it shouldn't take until late March (and counting) to figure it out. And if he didn't cheat, it shouldn't take until late March for the Tour to let us know.

Oh, I forgot: The Tour lowers the cone of silence on such matters. But this isn't about getting fined for dropping some choice four-letter words during the broadcast or for slow play. This is about the possible use of a performance-enhancing substance. It's about Singh's reputation -- and the Tour's, too.

So Singh twists in the wind. Or does he? We haven't heard a peep from him or the Tour, so it's difficult to know for sure.

During Friday's second round, Singh worked his way around the course in relative isolation. He wore white shoes, gray slacks, a black sweater, his signature white visor and his signature pained look.

A missed birdie putt on No. 11 caused him to slap the palm of his hand against the face of his putter, followed by a hand slap against his right thigh. Fives of people witnessed it.

An indifferent lag putt for eagle on No. 12 resulted in another thigh slam, but at least this time he left the hole with a birdie, good enough to get to 4-under. Just off the green, two little girls sold Gatorades and cookies to spectators.

He glanced upward in disgust after another missed birdie putt on No. 13. But a nice up-and-down on the par-3 14th put him a semi-happy place.

"Nice up-and-down, sir,'' said the man who carried the scoreboard for Singh's threesome.

"Thank you," said Singh, without looking at the man. Then he threw a golf ball to a boy standing behind the ropes near the 15th-tee box.

Singh birdied the par-5 16th, but only after leaving his eagle putt maddeningly short. He rolled his putter on his shoulder, clearly steamed.

On the par-3 17th, Singh stared long and hard at the video scoreboard near the green. He knew he was making up ground.

"Let's see if we can finish it off with a birdie here,'' said Singh's caddie as he walked off the 18th tee.

Singh would settle for a par and a two-day total of minus-5. He shook hands with his playing partners K.J. Choi and Stewart Cink and then made a beeline for the scorer's trailer. Minutes later he emerged and immediately declined a request to talk about his round.

I followed him to the players' parking lot, where he stopped to sign autographs for a few minutes. When I asked if he could answer a few questions, he simply said, "I'm good, thank you.''

"Nothing?'' I said.

"I'm really good, thank you,'' he said.

Maybe he is, but the Tour has to be a bit unnerved about how this will play out this weekend and beyond. Every minute Singh stays in contention means another minute in which people wonder if he cheated.

Just because Singh and the Tour will say little or nothing about the situation doesn't mean it's going away. Silence, it turns out, is overrated.