Singh in hunt for third PGA crown

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- Even for a guy who loves to play golf, who practices incessantly and is known for his unrelenting work ethic, Vijay Singh might have preferred to put his feet up and sit back Friday and be anywhere but the Ocean Course.

But this is a major championship and Singh is a two-time PGA champion. His morning tee time had him playing in a gale. So he did.

"If you had a golf course like this and you asked me to go and play golf in windy conditions, I'd say no, I'm not going to play,'' Singh said Friday afternoon after he shot the best score of the day, a 3-under-par 69. "I guess nobody is going to go out and play in conditions like this.

"But it is a major, and we have to go out there and just struggle and manage yourself the best you can, I guess.''

Singh did that quite nicely on a trying day that produced whitecaps on the Atlantic Ocean while ball caps blew off spectators' heads. The flags atop the Kiawah Island clubhouse were flapping, the hospitality tents rattling, nerves frayed.

The scoring average for those who played in the morning was 77.4 strokes, which made Singh's 69 all the more remarkable. He not only owns a share of the 36-hole lead with Tiger Woods and Carl Pettersson at 140, 4 under par, but Singh will be in the final Saturday pairing with Woods.

Singh, 49, is a Hall of Famer with three major titles and a slew of wins around the world who is used to playing in all kinds of conditions. Experience certainly helps in such situations, although when sand is being blown in your face and the wind continues to batter, that doesn't mean much.

"Nobody is used to winds like this,'' said Singh, who was the only player in the entire field to break 70 on Friday. "You're saying, yeah, you're contending for a major. We didn't expect wind like this. Guys going out yesterday morning had no wind, and they're going out this afternoon. You can't say, well, it evens out. It doesn't. [These are] really strong winds. I love contending in majors, but you just contend with yourself and try to make a score if you can.''

Singh has not won since the last of his 34 PGA Tour victories in 2008 at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

But he has shown signs in recent months of finding his form and contending again and has lamented his inability to shoot the scores necessary to win.

"He's a tremendous ball striker,'' said fellow Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, whose 1-under-par 71 after a scattershot 73 on Thursday was nearly as impressive. "These conditions here where you don't have an option to go on the ground, you have to keep it through the air, plays right to his strength. He hits the ball extremely solid and penetrates right through the air, and he's done that his whole career.''

Mickelson deserves some kudos, too. He has played poorly of late, shooting just one round of par or better on the PGA Tour going back to May until his 71 on Friday moved him into a share of 11th place. It's amazing that he managed a 73 in the opening round, when Mickelson was all over the golf course.

Through two rounds, he has hit just 11 of 28 fairways and only 15 of 36 greens, but he took 25 putts both days and has had 11 one-putt greens.

Singh made five birdies and three bogeys in his round in which he hit 11 of 18 greens in regulation. But he needed just 26 putts -- even 2-footers are scary in such wind. And, along with Mickelson, Woods and Ian Poulter, Singh had one of just four subpar scores on the day. That number was originally five until
Michael Hoey was later disqualified.

The Northern Irishman won't be playing the weekend since he signed an incorrect scorecard. His ball was embedded in a sandy area on the eighth hole so he extricated it for identifying purposes but didn't recreate the lie before finishing the hole. For not taking the 2-stroke penalty, he was DQ'd.

"It was sick,'' said 2002 PGA champion Rich Beem, who played with Singh and shot 76. "He did everything right. He drove the ball good, hit his irons precise. He made the putts when he needed to. It was very impressive. When he got in trouble, he recovered well. He just did everything very solid, nothing absolutely amazing, just as solid as can be. It was fun to watch.''

Well, as fun as it could be on such a warm, blustery day.

"It's one of the toughest setups I think I've seen in a major championship in a long time,'' said 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. "They didn't put the tees very far forward. The pin on 14 and the pin on 17 [both par-3s], I don't see how you get within 20 feet of those. It was a tough setup on a calm day, and with a 30-mile-an-hour wind across this course, you've got a serious test of golf on your hands. … 75 or below is a decent score out there. I really believe that. Vijay's 69, that's a serious score. A serious score.''

And, through 36 holes, it put Singh in a share of the lead. He is coming off consecutive top-10 finishes, including a tie for ninth at the Open Championship -- his best showing in a major since a tie for sixth at the 2006 U.S. Open.

"I've been playing well for a while; it's just the last two weeks were great,'' he said.

Singh has a PGA Tour-record 22 victories in his 40s, an incredible achievement when you consider the next best is once-ageless Sam Snead with 17.

Another thing to keep in mind: Should Singh go on to win, he would become the oldest winner in major championship history.

Singh wasn't thinking about much of that when it was over Friday. He was just glad to be done.

"It's one of the tougher conditions I've ever played,'' he said. "And put this golf course in the middle of all that, it becomes even more brutal.''