KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Vijay Singh had one bad swing Friday, but
it wasn't enough for him to lose the lead in the rain, whipping wind and eventual sunshine at the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Singh pulled his tee shot in the native grasses on the par-5 18th hole, hit a remarkable recovery and escaped with a par, giving him his second straight 4-under 69 and a one-shot lead over Trevor Immelman and Will MacKenzie in the PGA Tour opener.
MacKenzie made his lone bogey on the 17th after being put on the clock and rushing a putt, and he had a chance to tie Singh until missing a 10-foot birdie on the final hole, settling for a 70.
Immelman, the rookie of the year in 2006, birdied two of his last three holes for a 68.
The elements changed, but the Plantation course at Kapalua remained a stern test.
The start of the second round was delayed 1 hour, 20 minutes because of a light rain that began overnight and didn't stop until an hour after the round began. The trade wind picked up strength to 35 mph gusts as it tried shoo the clouds away. Singh thought it was nearly unplayable as he made the turn in a tie for the lead, but he picked up a few more birdies and reached 8-under 138.
"I'd like it to calm down a little bit," Singh said.
But he had few complaints about his position. He has finished a combined four shots behind three-time defending champion Stuart Appleby the last three years, and has not finished out of the top 10 since the winners-only tournament moved here in 1999.
Appleby shot 72 and was seven shots behind in his bid to tie a PGA Tour record with his fourth straight win at the same event.
Holmes was surprised to be in contention. He learned 20 minutes before his tee time that he would be playing alone because Arron Oberholser withdrew because of a back injury. Holmes made a sloppy bogey on the opening hole and showed no signs of doing anything grand until a chip from deep grass in the collar of a bunker on the
ninth for a tap-in birdie.
Starting with a 20-foot putt on the 11th, Holmes ran off four straight birdies. He felt so confident at the end of that stretch that he attacked the 305-yard 14th with driver, even though it was into the wind and surrounded by bunkers. He came up 20 yards short of the green to set up an easy birdie.
"I think it sets up great for me," Holmes said, one of 13 newcomers to Kapalua.
MacKenzie is a newcomer in other ways. A free spirit who left golf for a half-dozen years to experience the outdoors while living in the back of his van, he was doing an interview with The Golf Channel when asked if he was staying at the Ritz-Carlton or in his van this week. Along with confirming he was in the Ritz, MacKenzie said which room he was in.
When he got back to his room Thursday night, his voice mailbox was full. Before long, he had to turn off his phone.
Dude, it was no big deal.
"That's what it's all about, the fans," he said. "Some of them liked my story."
The story at Kapalua continued to be the weather, with rain that made the 7,411-yard play even longer, and wind that put a premium on controlling the flight of shots and finding the right pace on the putts.
Singh was superb.
He took the lead for the first time with an approach to 20 feet on the par-5 fifth hole for an eagle, and no one passed him the rest of the round. He rarely came close to making bogey, and picked up birdies on the 14th with a perfect pitch to a foot, and a 15-foot putt on the par-5 15th.
But he almost lost it on the 18th.
"I was in control of my whole game all through the day, and just tried to let one go on the last hole and got quick," Singh said. "I hit a good drive yesterday and made par, and a bad drive today and made par. So it kind of evened out."
He will be in the final group Saturday with Immelman, the South African who captured the Western Open last year. Immelman found if difficult to stay upright in the wind, but had beautiful control of his shots and finished his round with perfect pace on a pitch-and-run to about 4 feet for birdie.
Of the five players tied for the lead after the first round, Singh and MacKenzie were the only ones to move in the right direction. Brett Wetterich shot 79, while K.J. Choi took double bogey on No. 15 on his way to a 77. Stephen Ames had the lead after a 20-foot birdie on the opening hole, but never recovered from a double bogey at No. 7 and shot 74, leaving him five shots behind.
Oberholser received $50,000, but it does not count toward the money list. And he earned as many FedExCup points as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, which would be none. ... Rory Sabbatini, who has a reputation for intolerance toward slow play, was on the 12th green when he heard Chris Couch's drive came down the slope and onto the green. Sabbatini glared at the marshal for allowing
the group behind to tee off. ... Brett Wetterich was paired with Singh and was as much as 45 yards past him on the tee shots.
The Ryder Cup rookie struggled with everything else, however, and shot 79.