Sun, Jan 11, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Singh surges past Appleby on shores of Kapalua, Hawaii

AP , KAPALUA, HAWAII

Vijay Singh is playing as if they're still counting votes for PGA Tour player of the year.

Playing the best golf of his life, Singh finished with seven straight birdies Friday for a 9-under 64 to surge past Stuart Appleby and into the lead at the season-opening Mercedes Championships.

Singh was at 14-under 132 and had a one-shot lead over Appleby in what was shaping up as a two-man race going into the weekend on the Plantation course at Kapalua.

"I wasn't expecting all that," Singh said.

Appleby led by as many as four shots when he made the turn on the Plantation course at Kapalua, but his momentum slowed when he tried to drive the green on the 305-yard 14th and lost his ball in the waist-high vegetation -- a two-shot penalty -- and had to scramble to make bogey.

He birdied the two par 5s after that and finished with a 67.

Darren Clarke recovered from a double bogey on the first hole for a 69 and was at 10-under 136.

Tiger Woods, who barely beat out Singh for player of the year, hit some unfamiliar shots that left him in a familiar position -- trying to catch the big Fijian.

Woods lost his opening tee shot and made double bogey, missed a 4-foot par putt on the next and spend the rest of the day trying to make up lost ground. He wound up with a 3-under 70 and was nine shots behind.

"I just need to get off to a good start and not put myself in a hole," said Woods, who now has gone six straight rounds without breaking 70 -- his longest stretch since late summer in 1999.

Singh is riding a wave that would be considered huge even by Maui's standards.

He won four times last year, despite being mired in controversy over critical comments about Annika Sorenstam playing in the Colonial. Better yet, he won the PGA Tour money title with US$7.5 million, ending Woods' four-year reign.

The hardest-working man in golf didn't get much of a vacation during the three-week break from golf, and it showed. No one looks sharper, and Singh looks as determined as he was last year.

He was four shots behind when he holed a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 12 that started his great roll. Singh played aggressively off the tee to set up short birdies on the next two holes, two-putted for birdie on the par-5 15th, spun back a wedge to 5 feet on the 16th and holed another 20-footer on No. 17.

The trouble he had all day came on the 18th when he blocked his 4-iron. It bounced up against the grandstand, but Singh judged the grain and slope to perfection and chipped to 2 feet for a tap-in birdie.

"You've got to make putts over here to score," Singh said. "I didn't do it yesterday. They paid me back today."

He took only 25 putts (he had 31 on Thursday), and that included a three-putt on the sixth hole.

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