EDMOND, Okla. – Vijay Singh was striping balls on the driving range Wednesday morning, preparing for the 35th U.S. Senior Open, and a large crowd congregated behind him, eager to watch the lithe Fijian go through his warmups.
He still hits the ball long and high. His ball flight is similar to that produced by the young guns on the PGA Tour, which is probably why Singh, at 51, still competes against players up to 30 years younger than him.
I still feel like I have the game to compete. I still have the length to handle the long courses, said Singh, who last fall finished runner-up at the Fry’s.com Open on the regular tour. Plus, I still like the challenge of that competition.
And it’s the challenge and the competition that drew Singh to this week’s U.S. Senior Open, his first major championship start and second overall on the Champions Tour.
Not surprisingly, he’s competing quite well.
Though he stumbled on his inward nine Friday morning at Oak Tree National, Singh is still very much in the mix after an even-par 71 gave him a 36-hole total of 2-under 140. The three-time major champion had gotten as low as 5 under through eight holes, one shot within the overnight leader Colin Montgomerie, but it all came undone with bogeys at 11, 14 and 16.
Yeah, I played well today, but I lost my focus a little bit there, and I shouldn’t have. It cost me a few shots, Singh admitted.
Singh’s U.S. Open record includes a tie for third in the 1999 championship won by Payne Stewart. He also holds a share of the 18-hole scoring record of 63, which he produced in the second round of the 2003 championship at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club.
He was not disappointed by the setup he has encountered the first two days at Oak Tree.
I just wanted to come see what it’s like, he said of his decision to enter the championship. The U.S. Open always has a good golf course and good setup. This is a great golf course; it’s one of the best, I think. It’s challenging. It would be pretty tough on the regular tour as well. So I just wanted to come out here and see what it’s like and, hopefully, take home the trophy on Sunday.
Well, no one would be surprised if Singh, a Hall of Famer and winner of 34 PGA Tour titles, including the 2000 Masters and two PGA Championships, did take home the trophy, but he’s smart enough to know that’s far from a given. He might be the fittest player on the Champions Tour, but they don’t award the top prize based on cardio efficiency or muscle mass.
I still need to go out there and play and execute the shot that I want to do, he said. It’s no different than playing the regular tour. It’s a lot shorter out here, obviously, so a lot more chances to make birdies.
Of course, birdies get harder to come by in a U.S. Open. That’s why he wasn’t overly concerned about the shots he surrendered down the stretch.
I don’t think anybody is going to go anywhere today, so it’s fine, Singh said, taking off his visor and wiping sweat from his brow. I just have to play a little smarter and hopefully not make the same mistakes I made today. You know, I’m right there. I have a good chance yet.
Which is just what everyone expected.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work previously has appeared on USGA websites.