Singh, Pernice celebrate 20-year friendship
ATLANTA -- It was a friendship first forged some 20 years ago, on the outskirts of Chinese rice fields and Malaysian rainforests.
It lives on today, renewed almost every Tuesday during the PGA Tour season, when Vijay Singh and Tom Pernice Jr. get together for their usual friendly practice rounds.
Upon first glance, they would appear to be golf's ultimate Odd Couple. Singh, 43, is 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, a native of Fiji who earned $10 per lesson while developing his game in Borneo during the early part of his career. Pernice, 47, is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, from Kansas City, and a member of that powerhouse UCLA team back in the early '80s.
Their resumes don't exactly match up, either. Singh is a 29-time tour champion, three-time major winner and newly inducted member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Pernice, meanwhile, owns just two career victories and none since 2001. His appearance at this week's Tour Championship is the first of his career, and came only after he squeaked into the field as the 30th player on the money list and last player to qualify for the season-ending event.
As unlikely a duo as they are to be voluntarily paired during lead-ins to various tournaments, it's even more implausible that Singh and Pernice were grouped together during Saturday's third round at East Lake. We can assume it was never a topic of conversation when they first met on the Asian Tour two decades ago.
But that's exactly how things played out after the two players posted identical scores of 69-72 during the opening two rounds.
"It's always great," Pernice said after playing 18 with Singh on Saturday. "We're good friends, we spend a lot of time on Tuesdays together, so it's always a comfortable pairing. It's always competitive."
This day was no different. While Singh struggled a bit out of the gate, bogeying the first hole en route to an even-par front-side 35, Pernice was firing on all cylinders, making three birdies in his first nine holes to take an edge over his buddy.
It wouldn't remain that way. The players reversed roles after making the turn. This time it was Pernice who would play the side in even-par, while Singh went on a birdie binge. Vijay one-putted the first seven greens on the back-nine to card a 5-under 30 coming in.
Before walking off the course, they shared some conversation and even a few laughs. On the 18th green, Pernice's 68-foot twisting, turning, sidewinding, downhill putt just barely missed the hole, prompting some good-natured giggles from both men.
"That was pretty exciting," Pernice said. "It was a big, swooping putt, and it almost snuck in."
Of course, neither was laughing just minutes later, when Singh's eminently more makeable 14-foot birdie failed to find the hole.
That par gave Singh an impressive third-round 66 -- tied for the low score of the week so far -- and left him three shots off the pace of Adam Scott, with whom he'll play in the final pairing on Sunday.
"I made some putts, I guess," Singh said. "I played pretty decent. Just hanging around the front nine and got it going the back nine. Hit some really good shots and made some nice putts."
Pernice, meanwhile, remains two strokes further back following his 3-under 67 round on Saturday, in a share of sixth place.
It's a long road from the Asian Tour to East Lake, one Singh and Pernice know all too well. On Saturday, they shared the journey together.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com