Singh again sprints out early in Playoffs, can he keep going?

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September 07, 2012
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM

CARMEL, Ind. -- At one point earlier this year, Vijay Singh looked at his ranking in the PGA TOUR's putting statistics. He was 174th.

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"That's not gonna cut it," Singh told himself.

At 49, this seemingly ageless dog figured he had to relearn golf's most important trick. So he made a conscious effort to improve his putting. Tinkered with various putting grips on his long putter, finally opting for one of those fat grips like K.J. Choi uses. Devoted an hour a day of his already legendary practice regimen to putting.

His back gets stiff after spending so much time on the practice greens.

"But," he said, "I guess it's paying off."

It's certainly paid off through the first two rounds of the BMW Championship. He's made 29 of 31 putts inside 10 feet and ranks fifth in the field in strokes gained-putting. Not bad when you consider that he ranks 180th for the season in that category. Only one player at Crooked Stick has a worse ranking -- Kyle Stanley at 187th.

But the biggest payoff is that Singh sits atop the leaderboard after 36 holes. At 13 under, he leads Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Ryan Moore by one stroke in a tournament that became a lift, clean and place shootout for the first two days.

Of course, Singh has teased us before in recent starts. At the PGA Championship, he was tied for the lead after two rounds before fading. Two weeks ago at The Barclays, he was one shot off the pace after two rounds before fading. Thus, the questions now become: Can he hold it together for 36 more holes? Can he swat away a list of contenders with considerable star power? Can he simply keep putting like he has thus far?

Given that Singh hasn't won on the PGA TOUR since his victory march to the FedExCup title during the 2008 Playoffs, he seems as curious as anyone to find out the answers.

"I need four days of good playing," he said. "Sooner or later, I think four days is going to happen, and hopefully it starts this week."

If Singh fades away this weekend, he may fade away from the Playoffs entirely. He came in ranked 49th in points, so he needs a big finish just to ease his way inside the top 30 who will advance to the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.

He isn't the only one in that position. Moore, one of his playing partners in the final threesome on Saturday -- tee times and pairings were adjusted to deal with weather issues -- ranks 35th in points. Like Singh, he hasn't been happy with is putting, but he made an alignment adjustment that seems to be working. He's second in the field this week in strokes gained-putting, having picked up nearly five strokes on the field with his putter.

"I'm to the point of actually feeling good over my putts and actually feeling a little bit of confidence," Moore said.

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Playoffs update
ROUND 2 MOVEMENT: Vijay Singh could move into the FedExCup top five if he continues his current pace at Crooked Stick. Update

Of course, given the favorable scoring conditions -- preferred lies and soft greens -- most players were able to build varying degrees of confidence through the first two rounds. Just nine of the 70 players in the field are over par. Just one player in the field has been unable to produce at least one round of par or better -- Marc Leishman, who followed a 3-over 75 in the first round with a 1-over 73 on Friday.

It's been a birdie-fest thus far, but will it continue?

"Depends on the weather," said defending FedExCup champ Bill Haas, who produced the low round of the day, an 8-under 64, to move to 9 under and into a tie for ninth with Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Dustin Johnson. "I guess that storm is coming in. The course is going to get softer. The greens are going to stay the same -- it's just a matter of whether it gets a little cooler and windier.

"If you have wind and cooler (temperatures), the ball won't be going as far, so I think it'll play a little tougher. But you're still see good scores."

Added Woods after his 5-under 67: "There's cool air behind us, so the ball is not going to be going quite as far. It's supposed to be just a little bit more breezy, but more than anything, the ball is not going to be traveling as far. I think that's going to be the biggest difference."

Actually, the biggest difference might rest in the hands of one player who is more than twice as young as Singh.

The 23-year-old McIlroy has backed up Monday's win at the Deutsche Bank Championship with two terrific scores in rounds that were fashioned in completely opposite ways.

In shooting a 64 on Thursday, McIlroy was at the top of his game. In shooting a 68 on Friday, he was reduced to grinder status, finding a way to score despite not hitting on all cylinders. Not surprisingly, he leaned on his putter.

"When you keep seeing putts go in, you obviously build up confidence," McIlroy said, "I feel like I'm pretty high on confidence right now."

He should be -- he's won two of his last three starts.

Singh, meanwhile, hasn't won in his last 93 starts.

"I want it so bad that I get in my own way," Singh said. "I just have to get out of my own way and just play."

If he can do that, he might just get a shot at his second FedExCup title. But it's probably not wise to look that far ahead. Big names and unknown course conditions loom dangerously ahead.

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