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Singh grabs first-round lead with 66

1/7/2005 - Vijay Singh

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- The calendar changed. Vijay Singh didn't.

Coming off one of the best years in golf, Singh opened the new
season with an early statement Thursday at the Mercedes
Championships, overpowering the Plantation Course at Kapalua and
making just enough putts for a 7-under 66 and a one-shot lead over
Craig Parry.
It was the same kind of golf that carried Singh to nine
victories and a record $10.9 million in 2004. And even with Tiger
Woods showing more signs that his game is back, the 41-year-old
Fijian remained an imposing presence.
"That's the way he's been playing," Woods said after opening
with a 68. "It's a continuation of it."
Singh had said he wanted to start the year strong at the
winners-only Mercedes Championships, just to remind everyone that
he was still the man to beat.
No one could argue with that on a sunny, tropical day along the
rugged shores of Maui.
All it took was a three-hole stretch at the turn -- short birdie
putts on Nos. 10, 11 and 12 -- for Singh to quickly work his way up
the leaderboard, into a position that has become all too familiar.
Woods was among those tied for the lead on the back nine, but he
struggled on the greens and he could not keep pace with Singh, who
put himself in enough good positions to make birdies.
"I made nothing today," said Woods, who missed eight birdie
putts inside 18 feet. "I had a hard time getting the speed. You
rely so much on memory, and this time it messed me up a little
bit."
But he had no problem with the rest of his game, especially off
the tee. Woods routinely launched drives over 320 yards, and all
but three of them found the short grass.
It was a solid start to the year, not just for Singh, but for
the rest of the PGA Tour. Anticipation is high for most of the
elite players to be on top of their game, and Thursday did not
disappoint.
Sergio Garcia overcame a sluggish start for a 5-under 68,
joining Woods, Stewart Cink and Jonathan Kaye. Ernie Els, Chad
Campbell and Adam Scott were among those another shot back.
The Plantation Course has never looked so lush, although Singh
and Woods said that's what might have kept more players from
shooting low scores. With so much grass on the greens, the thick
grain made it difficult to find the proper pace and the right line.
"I was surprised nobody went lower than me," Singh said.
Singh also missed a half-dozen birdie putts inside 18 feet,
including a 10-footer on the final hole. Still, he got the start he
wanted in the first tournament of the year.
"I'm here," he said with a smile. "You want to start the year
off strong. This is a huge tournament. All the winners are here. My
intention is to play solid and win."
The 31 winners from last year -- only Masters champion Phil
Mickelson elected not to play -- eased their way into the new
season. This was the first competitive round in more than a month
for many of the players, although the generous fairways at Kapalua
allowed for some rust.
"I basically got away with the fact that the golf course was
pretty wide open," Woody Austin said after his 69. "I hit it all
over the place -- just very lucky."
Only four players shot over par, including defending champion
Stuart Appleby (74).
Cink and Parry both got off to steady starts, making the turn at
5 under par, but neither of them could keep it going.
Parry was fortunate that his tee shot stopped just short of the
banana grass framing a bunker on No. 12, although he could barely
get it into the fairway and made bogey. He wasted a great chance
when he reached the par-5 15th in two, but then three-putted for
par -- his first three-putt on tour since the 2003 season.
He finished with a 15-foot birdie for 67.
"This is the best I've felt going into a PGA Tour event," said
Parry, who played in Japan and three times in Australia over the
last few months. "I feel as though I'm pretty sharp."
Garcia, who won at Kapalua two years ago, played bogey-free
after a sluggish start.
"I was a bit tentative on the front nine, the first tournament
of the year," he said. "But it was a good day. I've just got to
keep it going the rest of the week and the rest of the year."
Singh and Woods looked like they were braced for a season-long
battle.
Woods started a new year loaded with promise by missing the
first fairway at Kapalua for the second straight year -- but only
because he hit it so long that it ran through the end of the
fairway, a 367-yard drive.
The driver no longer appears to be an issue. The putting drove
him crazy.
Woods made his only bogey on No. 4 when he gunned a 20-foot
about 4 feet by the hole and missed it badly to the right coming
back. But what really angered him were a couple of eagle putts.
With a stiff breeze into his face, he hit driver off the fairway
from 265 yards into about 15 feet on the No. 9, but had to settle
for birdie. With a chance to take the outright lead, he hit another
big drive on the par-5 15th and an approach just 12 feet below the
cup, but that slid away to the left.
"If I putt the way I normally do, that's three or four shots
right there," Woods said. "From that standpoint, it's very
encouraging. It's nice to not have to work so hard to shoot a low
number."
Singh worked harder than ever during his short offseason. He
thought about his game, what needed to be fixed and what he needed
to do to win at Kapalua.
After one day, 2005 looked no different from last year.