Singh Back on Center Stage

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OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Vijay Singh proved two things Friday: One, his golf game is finely tuned. Two, his truth-telling skills need some serious work.
 
Despite being heckled by a fan on the 14th hole, Singh tied a major championship scoring record, shooting 7-under 63 at Olympia Fields.
 
He became the fourth player to shoot 63 in the U.S. Open. Two players have done it in the Masters Tournament; seven at the Open Championship, and eight at the PGA Championship, including Singh in 1993 at Inverness.
 
Singh is tied for the 36-hole lead alongside Jim Furyk. Their 7-under-par 133 total is also a new U.S. Open record.
 
You get the feeling that somewhere dark and smoky, United States Golf Association officials are huddled together, devising a plan to alter the current tide of their crown jewel.
 
Records are falling and career-low scores are being registered in bulk in the 103rd edition. But normalcy seems to be returning to the top of the leaderboard.
 
Following a day dominated by supporting cast characters, the game's leading men are moving to the front of the stage.
 
Jonathan Byrd (66) and Australian Stephen Leaney (68) share third place at 5-under, while a host of marquee names are right behind.
 
Defending champion Tiger Woods shot 66 to get to 4-under. Hes tied for fifth place with Nick Price (65), Justin Leonard (70), Argentine Eduardo Romero (66) and Swedens Fredrik Jacobson (67).
 
Also in the mix are Tom Watson (72), Darren Clarke (69), David Toms (67) and Ernie Els (70). All are at 1-under par. Phil Mickelson (70) and Masters champion Mike Weir (67) are in at even par.
 
Sixty-eight players made the cut, which fell at 3-over-par 143, a new aggregate record. The lowest cut in relation to par is 1-over, at Medinah in 1990.
 
Players agreed that the number of low scores ' Woody Austin had the most anonymous 64 in major championship history Friday to get to 2-under ' is not due to a simple layout, but rather due to soft conditions.
 
There isnt a player in this tournament that would call a U.S. Open course easy, said Furyk. The greens are just a little soft now and thats why youre seeing good scores.
 
Singh was brilliant in his play Friday. He eagled the par-5 first by chipping in from 30 feet. That got him to 2-under for the tournament, and he turned on the same number. He then torched the backside in 5-under 29, tying yet another U.S. Open record.
 
Neal Lancaster shot 29 in the final round at Shinnecock in 1995, and again in 1996 in the second round at Oakland Hills.
 
Singh was at 5-under for his round and the tournament when he hit his tee shot on the par-3 14th to five feet. As he approached the green a fan reportedly yelled out, Annika would have made it.
 
The remark was made in reference to Singh being quoted at the Byron Nelson Classic as saying he hoped Sorenstam would miss the cut in the Colonial.
 
The fan was escorted from the greenside bleachers, to which Singh raised his putter and smiled. After his round, he refused to comment on the matter, saying the incident ' though clearly seen on TV ' never happened at all.
 
I went on to make my putt and birdied the next one, too, is as close as Singh came to an acknowledgement.
 
Upon birdieing 15, Singh was at 7-under. He had a pair of makable birdie putts coming home, but missed them both. He also bogeyed the par-5 sixth, in what could have been an even more exceptional score.
 
Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf were the last two men to shoot 63 in this event, doing so in the first round at Baltusrol in 1980, which Nicklaus won. Johnny Miller set the mark in the final round of his victory at Oakmont in 1973.
 
Singh has been vilified by some for his anti-Annika remarks, yet he continues to show no signs of distraction on the course. He won the Nelson and then skipped the Colonial ' for which he was further criticized, and went on to say he wouldnt enter the interview room unless he was leading an event or won it. He returned at the Memorial, two weeks ago, and tied for fourth.
 
I have focused on what Im doing, and thats playing the golf course and golf tournaments, he said. And I dont read too much newspapers. I just dont let things like that bother me.
 
Aside from the obvious encounter at the 14th Friday, fans at Olympia Fields didnt seem to harbor any ill feelings towards him. He was greeted with a thunderous applause when he capped off his round.
 
It felt like the last day of the Open, he said. The ovation on 17 was bigger than the one on the 18th.
 
While Singh is looking to add the third leg of the Grand Slam to his resume ' he won the 1998 PGA Championship and 2000 Masters ' Furyk is seeking his first major victory.
 
I put myself in great position, he said. Now my goal is to get myself in a good position for late Sunday.
 
Woods feels the same way. He is trying to become the first player since Curtis Strange, in 1988 and 89, to successfully defend his title. Friday, he furthered his cause by making six birdies and two bogeys. He failed to make a birdie in the first round.
 
I hit the ball a little bit better. Its a little bit easier to score when youre in the fairway, said Woods, who improved his fairways hit from six in the first round to 10 in round two.
 
All you have to do, just keep yourself in the red and keep moving up. Its always tougher on the weekend.
 
Watson wasnt able to conjure up his opening-round magic, but the 53-year-old kept alive the opportunity to claim major No. 9.
 
Yes, I can, the 1982 champion replied when asked if he could still win this event. A lot of things have to go my waybut I have a chance.
 
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