Singh looks fit for 2nd jacket in shooting 65


AUGUSTA, Ga. - Vijay Singh's victory here in the Masters two years ago didn't evoke a lot of emotion from the fans at Augusta National. In fact, many of them had left before he finished off a three-shot victory and put on the coveted green jacket that goes to the tournament's champion.

Singh has received warmer receptions since, and the folks who come for his final 36 holes of the 66th Masters should have plenty of time to figure out whether they will they stick around to cheer or head for a beer for what has the makings of another Vijay day come tomorrow afternoon.

With a sparkling 7-under par 65 in yesterday's second round that included four birdies and an eagle on the back nine, Singh's two-round score of 9-under-par 135 was four shots ahead of Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Sergio Garcia of Spain and Angel Cabrera of Argentina.

The top American so far is Phil Mickelson, who is at 3-under 141 and tied with Thomas Bjorn of Denmark and Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain. Defending-champion Tiger Woods was 1 under through 10 holes and 3 under for the tournament when play was suspended due to a late-afternoon thunderstorm.

The suspension after a 70-minute delay left 38 players on the course, including four-time champion Arnold Palmer. Palmer, 72, announced after an opening-round 89 that this would be his last Masters after 48 straight appearances and his last round in a major championship.

Palmer, who has six holes remaining, will complete his final Masters round this morning beginning at 7:45, weather permitting.

Of those who failed to complete their rounds, reigning U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen was at 6 under for the tournament after playing the first 11 holes in 3 under. Two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain was at 3 under through 10 holes after starting the day at 2 under.

It means Singh will get to relax a few more hours today, though he seems a lot more at ease than he was two years ago.

That was evident even before the tournament began. Three weeks ago at Augusta, in a practice round, he shot a 63.

"I think the way I'm playing the last few weeks, that's going to give me a lot more confidence, knowing that I won over here," said Singh, 39, whose victory two weeks ago in Houston was his first on the PGA Tour since the Masters. "The conditions are totally different. The golf course is different."

Even more importantly, Singh is totally different, more comfortable in the spotlight after having won the second major championship of his career than he was after winning his first, the 1998 PGA Championship outside Seattle. Despite not winning last year on tour, Singh finished fourth on the money list with more than $3.4 million.

"I just feel I'm playing a lot better now than I did two years ago, and even last year," said Singh, who, as defending champion last year, finished tied for 18th.

"I'm hitting the ball a lot better. I think I'm a much better player than I was two years ago, and that itself should carry me through, if I'm playing the same way."

What carried Singh yesterday was the early play of Bjorn, who tied a Masters record by starting the round with five consecutive birdies.

Singh, meanwhile, started quietly with seven straight pars before making his first birdie on the par-5 eighth hole. Except for his 25-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th, all of Singh's birdies were from inside 15 feet.

"He was making a lot of birdies out there," Singh said of Bjorn. "He birdied 13, we both birdied 13 and I said, 'Well, let's birdie the rest of the holes here.' "

Said Bjorn, 31, "The way I started is the way Vijay finished. That's golf."

Singh found himself at the top of a leader board filled with international players.

Aside from Woods, Mickelson and DiMarco, who led after 18 and 36 holes last year before finishing tied for 10th, the only other American within seven shots was Davis Love III, who led the tourney after an opening-round 67, and was at 2-under 142 after a 3-over 75.

Will Singh start thinking about a second green jacket?

"It really depends how much you listen to everybody around you," said Singh, who is being accompanied here by his wife, Ardena, their 11-year-old son, Qass, and a group of friends.

"Obviously, I have really good people around me. My wife is the best person to be around with right now, and she's pretty calm.

"Just come out here tomorrow and focus on what I'm doing and talk to my caddy. If I can focus on that and not worry about the golf tournament, I should be OK. Sooner or later, you have to think about it. Everybody is going to talk about it. It will be all over the news, so you can't escape it. You have to be realistic about it."

While Singh is not planning ahead, some of his friends began thinking about what the possibility of another victory here would mean. Charlie Niyomkul and his wife, Nan, cooked the champions' dinner before last year's tournament, with the menu coming from their Thai restaurant in Atlanta.

"We'll make some changes, but it's not over yet," said Niyomkul, who is staying with the Singhs here.

Niyomkul hopes his friend will get a different reception than he did two years ago.

"They're going to appreciate him more," said Niyomkul. "Everyone is excited for him to win this again."

Said Singh, "Last year was a great reception, but this year I guess when your name goes up there, they all get excited. It doesn't matter who it is. If they see your name up on the leader board they get excited, and they've been great all week."

It has been his week so far, and it could be his Masters again.

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