Commentary

Fast Greenbrier start for Vijay Singh

Updated: July 5, 2012, 11:48 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- Anyone who has followed his career would not be surprised to learn that Vijay Singh could be found on the driving range at the Greenbrier on Thursday afternoon.

The boiling heat didn't matter. The fact that he is playing his ninth golf tournament in 10 weeks was of little consequence. And a 7-under-par 63 didn't mean there wasn't reason to practice.

Singh has moved more dirt over the years than John Deere, although he would be the first to admit he doesn't grind as much hitting balls as in previous years. Perhaps that is due to age, as Singh turned 49 this year. Back injuries have contributed, too, and there were two knee surgeries in 2009.

Then again, when you are talking about Singh cutting back on practice, all things are relative. It's not as if he is doing nothing. For Singh, it's like dieter cutting back from 10 doughnuts to seven. In fact, his routine still likely exceeds that of most players and certainly matches many. The member of the World Golf Hall of Fame still likes to practice.

Trouble is, there has been little in the way of results until Thursday at the Greenbrier Classic at the Old White TPC.

"Gosh, I don't know where that came from,'' he said of the 63 that gave him a 1-stroke lead over Jeff Maggert, Martin Flores and Jonathan Byrd. "I've been playing pretty good for a while but just never got any scoring going. But today seemed I hit it close and drove the ball really well, hit a lot of greens and made some nice putts.''

That's usually what happens when you shoot 63, which included a back-nine 30 and six birdies.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves here, as Singh opened the AT&T National with a 68 to get into contention, but he shot 81 on Sunday to finish in a tie for 49th. That's what Singh is talking about. Lots of work, lots of seemingly good play. No results.

And it has really been that way since the last of his 34 PGA Tour victories at the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2008, the year he won the FedEx Cup title. For nearly 20 years, Singh was a lock among the top 20 in the world, and before the recent upheaval at No. 1 began in late 2010, was the only player to challenge Tiger Woods for the top spot for nearly a decade.

Singh made it to No. 1 for a total of 32 weeks over two stints in 2004-05. But since his last victory, he has just 11 top-10 finishes and only one this year.

"It's my first good round of the year, I would say, that I really felt comfortable with,'' he said. "It's a good way to start a tournament. I'm looking forward to the rest of the week.''

There is, of course, some irony in Singh finding success at the Greenbrier.

This is the longtime home of Sam Snead, who for years was the head pro at the course and later the pro emeritus. Snead is a native of West Virginia and played plenty of golf in these parts.

In addition to winning a PGA Tour-record 82 times, Snead held the record for most victories by a player 40 or older -- until Singh went past him five years ago. Snead, the oldest player to win on tour at age 52 (he passed away in 2002), won 17 times after turning 40. Singh has 22 victories since his 40th birthday. (By the way, the next best after Snead is Kenny Perry with 11, followed by Steve Stricker with nine.)

It is an impressive achievement to all but Singh, who famously scoffed at the record when he set it at the 2007 Mercedes Championship. At the time, Singh said he expected to be winning tournaments at age 50, and for a relatively late bloomer -- he did not join the PGA Tour until he was 30 -- perhaps that makes sense.

Maybe that is why Singh continues to go at it. The Champions Tour, which is now six months away if Singh so desires, seems to elicit little interest. He's still intent on hanging with the big boys -- and beating them.

"I've been expecting this for a while but it never showed up,'' Singh said of his 63. "Hopefully it keeps going. I don't feel tired. I feel really energized. I've been working really hard on my game, so it's nice to see something happen.''

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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