Originally created 04/13/02

Singh weathers the storm and reigns the leaderboard

Vijay Singh waited impatiently on the driving range as the rain fell, hoping desperately that his 10:20 a.m. tee time would be delayed.

The call never came, and Singh reluctantly began play on the wet course. But the skies eventually parted - if only slightly - and so did a course that was beefed up to prevent the precise sort of round that Singh pieced together.

Having begun the day at 2-under, he shot a sizzling 30 on the back nine and finished with a 65 to stake his claim atop the leaderboard.

Singh, whose round was his lowest in nine Masters appearances, enters today's third round at 9-under and appears entirely capable of slipping on his second green jacket in three years.

"I just didn't make any mistakes," said the 39-year-old Singh, who registered an eagle on the par-5 15th and followed with birdies on the 17th and 18th.

Singh said he was "exhausted" after a round that exceeded five hours. Strange, because Augusta National Golf Course seemed to have suffered the bigger beating after his bogey-free round.

It wasn't until he signed his scorecard that Singh noticed the impressive signature he left on the back nine. Early Friday morning, his wife asked him what would constitute a good round.

Given the weather, Singh's forecast wasn't good.

"I said a 68 would be a great number for me," he said.

Singh underestimated his capabilities by three strokes. He was 3-under at the turn after his first birdie of the day at the eighth, then he commenced a charge at Amen Corner.

Singh hit a 9-iron to eight feet on the par-3 12th and sank the putt, then he two-putted on the par-5 13th and went to 5-under.

Two holes later, a good round became a great one. Singh used a 7-iron on his approach to the par-5 15th, and the ball rolled 25 feet past the pin.

Singh was "just trying to get close to the hole" on the putt, but he exceeded that expectation then drained the ball for eagle.

"I was more surprised than my caddie to see it go in," he said.

Singh has been playing well since winning the Houston Open on March 31, a victory that snapped a 49-event winless streak on the PGA Tour.

He also benefited from a trip to Augusta National in early March to survey the extensive changes implemented after last year's Masters. He shot a 9-under 63 in the sneak preview and took home confidence that he could negotiate the lengthened course with few problems.

He didn't have many Friday.

"You shoot a low number like that on a practice day, and you say, 'Wow, it wasn't that difficult,"' said Singh, who finished tied for 18th last year at the Masters after winning in 2000. "I was happy. It eased my mind a little bit."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.


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