Singh Leads 84 Lumber Classic by Three

Friday, September 24th 2004, 9:02 am
By: News On 6

FARMINGTON, Pa. (AP) _ Just when Vijay Singh thinks he can't play better, he does. Just when it seems he can't do much more during his Tiger Woods-like season, he does that, too.

Singh is first on the money list, first in the world rankings and, again, first on the PGA Tour leaderboard. Singh, turning the post-majors schedule into a weekly highlights show, shot an 8-under 64 Thursday for a three-shot lead in the first round of the 84 Lumber Classic.

Good thing the $4.2 million tournament is sponsored by lumber billionaire Joe Hardy, since it looks like Singh will be cashing another big check Sunday. Singh can surpass Woods' season money record of $9.1 million in 2000 by winning, and it's evident the very competitive Singh knows it.

With seven tournament victories, Singh is closing in on Woods' best season of nine wins. Don't think he doesn't know that, too.

The way Singh is playing, with four rounds of 65 or lower in his last five tournaments, he agrees it would almost be impossible to play much better.

``I'm driving the ball the way I want it,'' Singh said after a bogey-free round that included an eagle and six birdies. ``I don't know if I can hit it any better. My playing is pretty good. I'm doing the same thing over and over again.''

If he means winning, he's right. He is going for his fifth victory in six tournaments, including the PGA Championship, and his third this month. He won the Deutsche Bank Championship and Canadian Open on consecutive weekends before sitting out last week.

Perfection? Almost.

``Today I was pretty close,'' he said. ``You can't really say that because you know, each day is different. I'm swinging the club as good as I think I can.''

To those chasing him every week, that's about as good as it gets. Singh leads Richard S. Johnson, Pat Perez, Cameron Beckman, Ben Curtis and Robert Allenby by three shots, with Kevin Na three back through No. 15 when play was stopped by darkness.

``He sure looks like he is on a roll like Tiger was a few years back,'' said Billy Andrade, who shot a 3-under 69. ``I think if you polled all the players and say would anybody get to the level that Tiger Woods was back at a couple of years ago, probably everybody would have said, `How can you get better than this?' ... And now Vijay seems to be on a run like that.''

Singh didn't take long to get into the red numbers on the 7,471-yard Mystic Rock course, which underwent extensive upgrading after it proved little challenge to a below-average field last year. J.L. Lewis shot 22 under a year ago to win, rallying from seven shots down with a final-round 62; on Thursday, he was dead last at 7-over 79.

Singh had three birdies and an eagle at the turn, then outdrove playing partners Mike Weir _ coming off a Canadian Open playoff loss to Singh _ and Mark Calcavecchia by 30 yards on the 363-yard par-4 13th. Singh's drive landed about 10 yards short of a bunker guarding the front of the green, and he chipped within 8 feet before making his birdie putt. He also dropped an 8-footer to birdie No. 16 and a 12-footer to birdie the rebuilt 18th.

If each round seems like a mirror image of each other, there's a reason.

``I do the same thing over and over again with my golf swing,'' Singh said. ``If I'm at home, I do a lot of work with a mirror. I work a lot with the mirror, swinging clubs. I think now my swing is into a plane where if I just keep doing what I'm doing, it should stay the same. The more I do, the better it gets.''

The harder it gets for everyone else, too.

Singh didn't appear bothered by a 90-minute, early morning delay caused by a thick fog, saying, ``It was good for me. I went out and played really good. That was probably the best I hit it for a long, long time.''

The delay left 36 of the 143 players on the course when play was halted. They will finish their rounds Friday morning before the second round starts.

Among a large group at 68 were John Daly, the unofficial tournament host who dropped out during the second round last year with medical problems. All three U.S. Ryder Cup team members in the field were below par, with Chris DiMarco and David Toms at 2 under and Stewart Cink 1 under through 16.