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Els Goosen Close in on Singh

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On a soggy mess of a course, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen signaled they're not just going to let Vijay Singh run away with the Masters.
 
Els birdied three holes and eagled another as the second round resumed at Augusta National, pushing him to 7-under-par Saturday morning.
 
Goosen, the U.S. Open champion, knocked a shot into the water at the par-5 13th and wound up taking bogey on a hole that usually provides at least a birdie chance.
 
But the South African bounced right back with birdies at Nos. 14 and 15, making him 7-under, too.
 
Singh, the 2000 Masters winner, put himself right where he wants to be in pursuit of a second green jacket. He finished his round Friday before the rains struck, overpowering the back nine for a 7-under 65, his best round ever in the tourney.
 
'I just feel like I'm playing a lot better now than I did two years ago,'' Singh said. ``That in itself should carry me through, if I keep playing the same way.''
 
One thing about Singh: It's not very likely he'll tumble backward this weekend. The 39-year-old Fijian has won seven out of the 14 times he's held the lead going into the weekend, and he has never finished lower than fourth.
 
The rest of the field will have to chase down this consummate front-runner.
 
A deluge forced postponement of the second round with 38 players still on the course Friday. The rain lasted into Saturday morning, pushing back the scheduled 7:45 a.m. restart by another 1 hour, 20
minutes.
 
The stormy weather created some improbable scenes at pristine Augusta National. Pine straw covered the walking paths across the fairway, and muddy sand was spread between the clubhouse and the 18th hole.
 
``It's a shame to see the course so destroyed,'' Jerry Kelly said.
 
Still, thousands of fans turned out to see Arnold Palmer's farewell tour. He returned Saturday to play his final six holes.
 
``The sun's going to be shining in a little bit,'' Palmer said to the gallery.
 
``He wishes,'' a patron quipped.
 
Palmer was playing his 147th and final round at the Masters, saying goodbye to an army of fans who saluted the four-time champion on just about every step around the course.
 
The King made it to the weekend in his 48th Masters, even though his mammoth score - 28-over with one hole to play - was no longer being posted on the boards.
 
It didn't matter.
 
'This place won't be the same without him,'' two-time winner Ben Crenshaw said.
 
Defending champion Tiger Woods was among those who had to go back on the course to finish the second round Saturday. He had birdies at the 13th and 15th holes to get to 5-under, four strokes behind Singh.
 
Woods is trying to become only the third player to repeat as Masters champion. Singh, on the other hand, came in with low expectations.
 
``I didn't have any pressure on me,'' Singh said. ``All the talk was about the other guys. I thought, 'That's great. I'm just going to go out there and play my game.'''
 
Singh's round, which featured an eagle and two birdies over the final four holes, was his best score at the Masters, but not his best at Augusta National.
 
Curious about the sweeping changes that added 285 yards, Singh got his first look at revamped Augusta a month ago during a practice round. He made 10 birdies in a round of 63.
 
``You shoot a low number like that on a practice day and you say, 'Wow! That wasn't that difficult.' It kind of eased my mind a
little,'' he said.
 
International players dominated the leaderboard on the new Augusta, which didn't get a chance to strike back at all those guys who used to reach for their wedges on the par-4s.
 
The rain softened those notorious greens, though it also filled the fairways with puddles in the morning and small rivers in the afternoon.
 
``I think the golf course is playing as susceptible to birdies as it can,'' said Phil Mickelson, one of the few Americans in contention at 141. ``It is understandable that Vijay could shoot 65.''
 
Among those who finished Friday, Ireland's Padraig Harrington (70), Spain's Sergio Garcia (71) and Argentina's Angel Cabrera (71) were at 139 overall.
 
Mickelson was among eight players who had a share of the lead at one point Friday, although his four birdies were offset by four bogeys in a round of 72 that left him six strokes off the lead.
 
Singh was helped by the soft, calm conditions, and by his playing partner, Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, who set a Masters record by making birdies on his first five holes.
 
``It's good to play with somebody who is making so many birdies,'' Singh said. ``It kind of carries you along a little bit.''
 
Bjorn finished with a 67 and was in the group at 141, along with Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, who shot a 71.
 
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