CARMEL, Ind. – In a sense, Vijay Singh is half the player he used to be. The half being the first two rounds, not the last two.
Singh, at 49, is back in the midway mix again, leading the BMW Championship by one stroke after 36 holes. But now it’s on to another weekend. And weekends, while fun for most people, have been anything but relaxing or rewarding for Singh lately.
The Fijian, of course, used to feast on Saturday and Sunday. He has closed out 34 PGA Tour victories. But he hasn’t won in four years, and in recent months he has stumbled toward the finish line. It’s a trend he hopes to reverse at soft Crooked Stick.
“I’ve been playing well for two days for a while now, but I need four days of good playing,” Singh said after posting 13-under 65-66–131. “Sooner or later, I think four days is going to happen, and hopefully it starts this week.”
Remaining on top won’t be easy. Heavyweights Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are a stroke back, as is Ryan Moore, and world No. 4 Lee Westwood is two behind on the star-stacked leaderboard.
At this point, though, Singh needs a solid showing for his esteem. Forget about the winning part.
“I guess I want it so bad that I get in my own way,” he said. “So I just have to get out of my own way and just play.”
Yes, he does. The numbers aren’t pretty.
His 2012 PGA Tour scoring average is 70.59 before the cut (ranking 31st) but 72 in the final round (138th). That means he has sabotaged a lot of opportunity. He has been in the top five midway four times since June but went 24 over par in the last two rounds of those tournaments.
He co-led last month’s PGA Championship midway but closed with 74-77 and tied for 36th. A finishing 81 at the AT&T National dropped him to T-49. He closed with 75s at Colonial and Memorial, falling to T-47 and T-16, respectively. He opened the recent Barclays 68-67 but limped home with 76-75.
“It’s not like I don’t know how to play the weekend,” Singh said. “I’ve done it hundreds of times. I just need momentum, and I think it’s in my mind.”
It was suggested to Singh that he watch tape of his nine victories in 2004. You know, so he could see himself making a key putt down the stretch or lifting his arms in triumph or hoisting a trophy.
Such visual reminders could help, but Singh said he didn’t see the value in such viewing.
“It’s totally different now,” he said. “That was so long ago. And I don’t dwell in the past.”
Well, OK, but that wouldn’t be so much dwelling as it would be an attempt to rekindle.
Whatever, he again played the Singh of old here the past two days. On Friday, the longest of his seven made birdie putts was 15 feet; the rest were inside of 8 feet. His round was lifted by four consecutive birdies in the middle, from the 18th through the third. He knocked three approach shots from 110 to 143 yards out to within 4 feet of the hole.
On one hand, you could say Singh could have gone deeper, for he missed eagle putts of 12 and 13 feet. On the other, though, he leads despite hitting only 21 of 36 greens in regulation.
So his short game, for a change, has elevated him. That includes putting well with an interesting combination he has used since July: a fat grip to go with his belly putter and left-hand-low arrangement.
He switched to the thick grip in yet another attempt to improve his stroke. At the moment, he ranks 180th on Tour in putting (strokes gained), though he seems to have gotten better of late in part because of hour-a-day practice.
“I putted so poorly at the beginning of the year, I just needed a change,” Singh said. “I tried so many different grips, but this one feels really good when I put my hands on it.”
Singh may not stay high up on the leaderboard through Sunday night. Much more certain is that he will be on the PGA Tour next year after turning 50 in February. He said Friday that he won’t play the 2013 Champions Tour, not even its major championships.
He’s not ready for the more relaxed gatherings of elders just yet. But he is eager to finally have a good weekend.