A rookie mistake at Kapalua, but not on the course

Updated: January 6, 2007, 11:44 PM ET
Associated Press

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Vijay Singh is poised to make PGA Tour history. It starts with rewriting recent history, especially at Kapalua.

The 43-year-old Fijian seized control Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, driving the ball with authority and letting his belly putter carry him to a 3-under 70 in gusty conditions for a three-shot lead over Adam Scott and Trevor Immelman.

A victory would give him 18 tour victories since turning 40, one better than the record held by Sam Snead.

But that requires Singh to finish Sunday afternoon with the winner's lei draped around his neck, and that hasn't come easily for him.

He has been runner-up twice in the last three years and has finished a combined four shots behind three-time defending champion Stuart Appleby. And the last time Singh had a three-shot lead going into the final round, Tiger Woods chased him down at the Deutsche Bank Championship last September outside Boston.

"If I succeed in striking the ball the way I want to, I think the results are going to be there," Singh said.

And then there's the par-5 18th, the easiest hole on the Plantation course. Singh has failed to make birdie all week, which to him is like giving a shot away to the rest of the winners-only field.

"Hopefully, tomorrow I'll get that right," he said.

Singh was at 11-under 208, a remarkable score given the strong trade winds and gusts that played tricks on a sunny afternoon.

Scott made birdie on five of his last seven holes for a 69, while Immelman birdied the par 5s on the back nine for a 72.

Will MacKenzie (73) and J.B. Holmes (71) each recovered from shaky moments to stay in the mix at 212.

Except for the scenery and their positions atop the leaderboard, Singh and Scott have made the first PGA Tour event of 2007 look a lot like last year's finale.

Scott and Singh also played in the final group two months ago at the season-ending Tour Championship, but it was Scott who had the three-shot lead at East Lake, and he closed with a 66 for a three-shot victory.

Immelman had a chance to get into the final group until his eagle putt on the 18th just turned away. The South African figures he will need the lowest round of the tournament -- no one has been better than 68 all week -- to catch Singh.

"I'll need a special day tomorrow," Immelman said. "You don't expect him to give it away. But I've come from three behind before and won. All I can do is play my best golf and see what happens."

Appleby's bid to become the fourth player to win a PGA Tour event four straight times is all but over. He birdied the 18th for a 1-under 72, but that only brought him to 2-under 217. Tiger Woods, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen are the only players to win the same tournament four times in a row.

Singh was tied with MacKenzie coming off a bogey at No. 7 when he holed a 50-foot birdie on the par-3 eighth, the only birdie of the third round. He followed that with a 12-foot birdie on the ninth that dropped in the middle of the cup.

MacKenzie was asked what odds he gave himself of winning, and they presumably went down when told that Singh already was at 11 under and chipping for eagle on the final hole.

"I don't know, man," he said. "Throw me in there for 50 percent, because I plan on going low."

MacKenzie and several others could do without the mistakes that cost them throughout a sunny day on Maui.

Davis Love III made a quick charge up the leaderboard, followed by a sudden retreat when he went over the par-5 fifth green, stubbed a few chips and took double bogey. Holmes was in the mix until hitting his drive on the ninth into the weeds, hitting his next shot after a penalty drop into the weeds, then blowing a remarkable recovery with a three-putt for double bogey.

MacKenzie also started to backfire.

Willie Mac is laid back, but he showed a temper after a three-putt on the eighth green -- "Stupid!" he yelled at himself as he walked away -- and he nearly fell out of the picture on the 13th. He hit into the native grasses, was lucky to find it, then took a penalty drop and threw his head back in angst when the drop buried in the Bermuda grass.

He played a fairway metal that barely cleared the top of the hazard, then got up-and-down for a bogey.

"A roller coaster day," he said.

Scott, meanwhile, recovered nicely from back-to-back bogeys toward the end of his front nine. He ran off three straight birdies, all of them from inside 10 feet, then made a 12-foot birdie on the 18th to finish off a 32 on the back nine. ^Divots:@ Singh, Immelman and Luke Donald are the only players to break par all three rounds. Donald (72-71-71) was six shots behind. ... Ben Curtis played alone and finished the first seven holes in just over an hour. But on the par-3 eighth, his tee shot went short into a hazard. Uncertain where it landed, he went to the green only to realize he had to go back to the tee. Trouble was, the shuttle had already left, so he had to wait for it to return. The whole process took 20 minutes. Curtis still finished in about three hours after a 77. That means he gets to play alone Sunday, too. ... Holmes might have the longest pre-shot routine on tour. He slowly swings the club like a sledgehammer as many as eight times, before standing behind the ball to visualize the shot. The whole process takes well over a minute.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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