Archive for Saturday, June 14, 2003

Singh strikes back

Vijay ties Furyk for U.S. Open lead

June 14, 2003

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— Vijay Singh had the last word Friday at the U.S. Open.

For the guy on the 14th hole who heckled him about Annika Sorenstam, Singh answered with a wave of the putter and a short birdie putt to continue his amazing run.

For those who thought he couldn't survive his stinging remarks about Sorenstam, he answered with a round that equaled the best in major championship history.

A month ago, Singh made headlines with his mouth.

This time, he did it with his clubs.

On another day of record scoring at Olympia Fields, Singh had a 7-under 63 that gave him a share of the lead with Jim Furyk and a place in the record books with the lowest 36-hole score in U.S. Open history.

"I just don't let things like that bother me," Singh said. "I'm more focused on what I'm doing, and let everything take care of itself."

Furyk had a bogey-free 66 and finished at 7-under 133, a score that looked as if it would hold up until Singh tied the U.S. Open record with a 29 on the back nine.

They had a one-stroke lead over Stephen Leaney (68) and Jonathan Byrd (66), with Tiger Woods closing fast.

Woods had six birdies in a round of 66 and was only three strokes behind as he tries to become the second player in the last 50 years to win consecutive Opens.

It was the lowest second round of scoring in U.S. Open history, and the 71.9 average at Olympia Fields was the fifth-lowest in any round.

Singh drew mostly cheers, but there was that one heckler. After an 8-iron into 4 feet, a fan called out, "If it would have been Annika, it would have gone in the hole."

As security escorted the fan from Olympia Fields, Singh appeared to raise his putter at him. Then, he stood over the putt and holed it for birdie.

Asked about it, Singh said, "I didn't notice anything."

Rocco Mediate, his playing partner and a former neighbor in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., made it sound as if it were impossible to ignore.

"His caddie said something to him, and he (the fan) said, 'Why don't you come over here and say that?"' Mediate said. "They escorted (him) out. It was just stupid. Enough's enough. I don't think they'll say much if he's holding that trophy up on Sunday."

They cheered Singh long and loud as he played the final holes, a flawless performance from a two-time major champion.

"It felt like it was the last day of the Open," he said. "I was pumped up and playing well."

This is supposed to be the toughest test in golf, although that's open to debate.

The rough is thick, but there have been no reports of missing spectators. The greens are quick, but they will hold just about any shot.

The scores were unlike anything the U.S. Open has seen in 10 years.

The cut was 3-over 143, the lowest in history. It was 1-over 145 in 1990 at Medinah, the last time a U.S. Open was held outside Chicago.

More evidence?

Woody Austin, a guy famous for breaking a putter over his head, shot 64. Masters champion Mike Weir had a 67 that included a 7 on his scorecard.

There were 38 rounds in the 60s, making it 52 for the first two days. The record for most rounds in the 60s at a U.S. Open was 76 at Baltusrol in 1993.

Singh made no apologies for the scoring, and had no comment on Sorenstam.

"I'd like to focus on the Open this week," he said.

That's what Singh does best. Distractions have followed him throughout his career, yet he has always found solace by digging out golf shots in the dirt.

A week before Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour, Singh said, "I hope she misses the cut. Why? Because she doesn't belong out here."

Singh responded by winning the Byron Nelson Classic, his second victory of the year, then withdrew from the Colonial, where Sorenstam shot rounds of 71-74 and missed the cut.

The controversy might fade if Singh keeps this up.

His 63 was the fourth ever in the U.S. Open, and it could have been better. He made a bogey from the middle of the third fairway, and another one on the par-5 sixth when he three-putted from 15 feet.

He missed birdie putts of 12 feet on No. 16 and 8 feet on No. 17, never aware that a scoring record was in his grasp.

"Rocco told me on the 17th hole after I missed the putt," Singh said. "He said, 'I wanted to see a 61.' I said, 'Hopefully, you're going to see a 62.' He wanted to see the 63 broken."

Almost.

Aggressive throughout the round, Singh hit driver into the bunker on No. 18, came up short of the green and his 25-foot putt was wide right.

Still, he joined Greg Norman as the only players to shoot 63 at two majors. Singh also had a 63 at Inverness in the 1993 PGA Championship. Norman shot a 63 in the '96 Masters and at Royal St. George in 1993 when he won the British Open.

Now, Singh wants to forget about it and move on.

He is tied with Furyk, and 15 others are within five shots of the lead.

The most prominent was Woods, who felt comfortable with his shots and started attacking flags. No shot was better than his 6-iron into the 496-yard ninth hole, which landed in front of the flag and stopped 2 feet behind it.

"Any time you're under par in the U.S. Open after two days you've got a chance," Woods said. "I'm where I want to be."

First-round co-leader Tom Watson faded over the back nine, but still had a 72 and was four strokes behind.

"We're not done," said his caddie, Bruce Edwards, who is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease. "We've got two days left, and I wouldn't count him out."

Four strokes isn't nearly as daunting as the players ahead of Watson, all of whom appear to be on top of their games.

Furyk looked as tough as ever.

Despite missing two birdie putts inside 10 feet on the final three holes, Furyk had his best score in the U.S. Open and a 36-hole record.

The previous 36-hole mark of 134 was shared by Woods (2000), Lee Janzen (1993), T.C. Chen (1985) and Jack Nicklaus (1980). Woods was 8 under at par-71 Pebble Beach.

"I've always had a lot of confidence in my game and feel like I have the game to win a major championship," Furyk said. "It's a matter of going out there and doing it."

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