KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Vijay Singh won the closest-to-his-age competition on a blustery Friday when the scoring average was pushing closer to Arnold Palmer’s age.
Singh’s low-round-of-the-day of 69 has the 49-year-old tied for first and in position to become the oldest major winner in history. He has a chance to follow Ernie Els as the second consecutive sitting Hall of Famer to claim a fourth major title.
“Folks watching on TV back home I don’t think realize how good that 69 is,” said Swainsboro’s Blake Adams, whose own even-par 72 was more than five shots better than the field average of 77.4 in the morning wave.
Singh understands well just how good it was. The unencumbered winds consistently in the upper 20s with high gusts of 38 mph over the exposed Pete Dye layout on the Atlantic Ocean were not for the faint of heart.
“Put it this way – it’s one of the tougher conditions I’ve ever played,” Singh said. “And put this golf course in the middle of all that, it becomes even more brutal.”
Consider that Singh is the kind of range rat who will spend hours on end practicing on the back of the range at another Dye course at Sawgrass. Nothing ever dissuades the native Fijian from putting in the time on golf.
But if he’d had his druthers Friday morning, he’d have slept in.
“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. “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.”
That struggle at times on Friday seemed cruel. Club pro Doug Wade from Dayton, Ohio, was 19-over par through 14 holes and was threatening to break the all-time worst score in PGA Championship history (94) before finishing bogey-bogey to post 93.
His misery had company. Fellow club pro Michael Frye carded 90, meaning there were twice as many scores in the 90s than the 60s.
PGA Tour winner D.A. Points was 15-over through 13 holes before parring in for an 87. Alexander Noren started the day tied for second after an opening 67 and backed it up with an 80 – and he’s still in the top 40.
So Singh’s lone round in the 60s left a lot of players impressed.
“Not sure where @VijaySinghGolf was playing today,” tweeted 23-year-old Rickie Fowler, who shot 80 himself.
“I consider 75 kind of a par round of golf out there today,” said Adam Scott, who was thrilled to have shot his adjusted standard to stay in the top 10.
Singh lapped them all.
“It was sick,” former PGA champ Rich Beem, who had a front-row ticket to the Vijay show for 18 holes, told ESPN.
“Vijay’s 69, that’s a serious score,” admired Graeme McDowell.
Singh just sauntered along like it was old times.
“After a while you don’t really think about your score,” he said. “You just think about each hole, each shot and just try not to mess up.”
For a two-time PGA champ with 34 career victories but none since 2008, the brutal challenge was almost made to order.
“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,” said fellow Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson, who shot his own impressive 71 to climb to 13th. “He hits the ball extremely solid and penetrates right through the air and he’s done that his whole career. When he gets hot with the putter, he can reel off a number of wins just like he did one year where he won nine times. He has that ability. You don’t ever forget it. Sometimes you might go through hills and valleys, but you don’t ever forget how to hit those shots and win.”
Singh is starting to get those old feelings back.
He came to Kiawah sporting consecutive top-10 finishes including a tie for ninth at the British Open that marked his highest finish in a major in six years.
“I’ve been playing well for a while, it’s just the last two weeks were great,” he said.
“I just started believing that I can do it. I was so negative for a long, long time. I had great sessions on the driving range and just couldn’t take it on the golf course. I finally started to believe that I could do what I’m doing on the driving range. A little tweak to my golf swing during the British Open kind of helped, as well. Like I said, my head is in a better spot. I’m more focused and believing that I can do it has helped me a lot.”
To believe that Singh – whose 22 tour wins after turning 40 are the most in history – can’t close his mitts around the Wanamaker Trophy for a third time would be foolish.
“I love contending in the majors,” he said, “but you just contend with yourself and try to make a score if you can.”
On Friday, nobody in the world could contend with the guy who’ll be senior tour eligible in February.