KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Vijay Singh turned 49 in February, and his golf game finally appeared it might be getting old and gray. He went nine months, until late May, without a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour. And, having not won since late 2008, his attitude progressively soured.
You ball-beat your way into the Hall of Fame, win 34 times and play like a kid in your 40s. Then your body starts breaking down in 2009-10, first the right knee, then the lower back, and going low becomes a distant memory. A remarkable 11 consecutive seasons in top-five earnings are followed by a pair outside 65th. And all you have to show for it are calloused hands and a hardened heart.
“I was so negative for a long, long time,” Singh said Friday after the second round of the 94th PGA Championship. “I had great range sessions and just couldn’t take it on the golf course.”
The past couple of months, though, the old warhorse has found some of his former form, the kind that helped him win 22 times since his 30s. “All of a sudden,” he said, “it clicked.” And so he tied for ninth at the HP Byron Nelson and Open Championship and tied for seventh a couple of weeks ago at the RBC Canadian Open.
Singh tweaked his swing at the Open at Royal Lytham. He also adjusted his outlook. In computer-mouse terms, a double click.
“I finally started to believe that I could do what I’m doing on the driving range,” Singh said. “My head is in a better spot. I’m more focused, and I’m believing.”
That certainly was the case Friday at Kiawah Island’s rugged Ocean Course. The hard-working Fijian turned in one of the best bad-weather rounds you’ll see in a major championship. Facing a steady, strong wind that gusted to 35 mph, plus a high heat index and a long, difficult track, Singh somehow pieced together a 69.
“One of the tougher conditions I’ve ever played,” Singh said of a day when balls oscillated on the perched greens and 2-footers weren’t automatic. “Put this golf course in the middle of all that, it becomes even more brutal.”
You might say that was 3 under par. For better perspective, consider that his five-birdie, two-bogey score was 8 1/2 strokes better than the average in the morning wave.
“One of my better rounds,” Singh said hours before his 4-under 140 ended up tied for the midway lead with Tiger Woods and Carl Pettersson.
Singh prompted archivists to page through records. Should he go on to win, he would be the oldest major champion by 13 months and three days. Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA at 48 years, four months and 18 days.
During his Friday feat, Singh stopped worrying about his score and swing thoughts in all those tricky crosswinds that made pulling the right club a challenge. He tried to make pars and “not mess up.”
“I love contending in majors, but you just contend with yourself and try to make a score,’ he said.
When he did wander off line, he recovered nicely. He got up and down for pars six of the seven times he missed greens in regulation. His short game propped him up when ball-striking didn’t. Time after time, he converted in the 4- to 7-foot range with his belly putter.
Kiawah Island is a nice resort and all. But Friday’s weather wasn’t quite suitable for a picnic.
“If you had a golf course like this and you asked me to go and play 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.”
Except more than 100 of the world’s best players dreaming of a place in history, as well as a $1.445 million payday.
Despite his distaste for the conditions, Singh hardly looked like someone in the midst of a root canal. Playing competitor Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA champion, marveled at Singh’s efficient work.
“It was sick, man,” said Beem, who shot 76 himself. “It was absolutely awesome.”