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Singh grabs early lead at Mercedes



Published: Fri, January 7, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Vijay Singh fired an opening round 66.

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) -- 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.

Surge at the turn

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.

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.

Course hampering scores

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.

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."




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