Originally created 06/11/04

Singh leads Buick Classic by a stroke



HARRISON, N.Y. -- Vijay Singh took the pressure off his shaky putting game with solid driving and pinpoint short-iron play.

Hitting it close on hole after hole, Singh shot an 8-under 63 on Thursday to take the first-round lead in the Buick Classic, the final PGA Tour event before the U.S. Open next week at Shinnecock Hills.

Singh, seeking his third victory in the tournament, played his final nine holes - the front nine on the Westchester Country Club course - in 6-under 30 to take a one-stroke lead over Fredrik Jacobson.

"I've been hitting the ball really well the last few weeks, but the putter has been letting me down," Singh said. "I hit a bunch of shots close, and had a lot of tap-in birdies. ... From 3-4 feet you can't pick too many bad lines."

David Frost, the 1992 winner on the hilly, tree-lined course, opened with a 66, and Fred Couples topped a large group at 67. Ernie Els, a two-time Buick Classic champion coming off a victory Sunday in the Memorial, was five strokes back at 68 in a large group that included Davis Love III, David Toms and Padraig Harrington.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson opened with a 69 in an event that features 25 of the top 30 players on the money list.

"There's a lot of birdies out there," Mickelson said. "I just had a hard time getting the ball close to the hole. Fortunately, I didn't make any big mistakes."

Singh had nine birdies - eight from inside 10 feet - and one bogey to finish a stroke off the course record set by Dan Sikes in 1967 and matched by Jim Wright (1976) and Peter Jacobsen (1982). The big Fijian, the tour leader with three victories and earnings of $4,448,861, birdied six of his final eight holes.

"I drove the ball really straight. I attacked the course from the get-go," Singh said. "If you hit the driver well, you have a lot of wedges and sand wedges into the greens. I was very relaxed and let my swing happen. I didn't force anything."

Jacobson one-putted the first six greens in his morning round in perfect scoring conditions, highlighted by a 60-foot eagle putt on the par-5 fifth hole.

"It was roller coaster. It went up two tiers," he said. "It was straight on line. It's very rare that you get the pace and everything right on a putt like that, but once it was on the way there I thought I wouldn't be surprised of it goes in."

The Swede has four top-10 finishes in 12 starts this year, his first full season on the PGA Tour. Last year, he won three times on the European tour and had four top 10s in eight PGA Tour appearances.

"I really took on the par 4s that were a little bit shorter," Jacobsen said. "I tried to go with the driver today because I practiced the wedges so hard and started hitting good shots in the beginning. I wanted to give myself a few more of those."

The 44-year-old Frost won the last of his 10 PGA Tour titles in 1997.

"I'm just trying to enjoy the game," Frost said. "I still love playing, and love trying to figure it out. It's nice to be on a course that you've won on before."

Divots: Frost planned to play in a U.S. Open qualifier this week, but said the USGA lost or never received his application form. "There's nothing I can do about it, so why cry about it," Frost said. ... David Gossett shot an 81. The 2001 John Deere winner has made only two cuts in 13 starts this year and has broken 70 just once - an opening 69 in the Honda Classic. ... Defending champion Jonathan Kaye shot a 73. ... Love had five birdies and two bogeys in his 68. "I left some out there, but also saved a bunch, so I came out about even," Love said.