Singh moves up leaderboard with Friday 69

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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Vijay Singh will turn 50 next February.

There’s gray hair sprouting under his visor now.

He doesn’t pound range balls into sunsets the way he did in his prime.

There have been back problems, knee surgery and other aches and pains that time brings, but none of that mattered Friday at the PGA Championship. In the gusting, heavy winds on Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, Singh re-emerged on a major championship stage. He reminded a new generation he just might not be done setting records.

With a 3-under-par 69 in the second round, Singh heads into the weekend with a chance to become the oldest winner of a major championship.

“Vijay’s score today is phenomenal,” Graeme McDowell said.

Singh posted the lowest score in the morning wave in winds gusting to 25 mph. He was just one of three players to break par in the morning.

“Folks watching on TV back home, I don’t think they realize how good that 69 is because there are a lot of pins you can’t even sniff,” Blake Adams said.

Singh is on the leaderboard at 4-under 140. If he can continue his stellar ball striking, and keep an erratic putter in line, he is poised to make a run at surpassing Julius Boros as the oldest winner of a major. Boros was 48 when he won the PGA Championship at Pecan Valley in 1968.

“Vijay is a tremendous ball striker,” said Phil Mickelson, who has had his share of battles with Singh. “These conditions here, where you don’t have an option to go on the ground, where you have to keep it through the air, plays right to his strength. He hits the ball extremely solid, penetrates right through the air. He’s done that his whole career.

“When he gets hot with the putter, he can reel off a number of wins, just like he did that one year, when he won nine times. He has that ability. You don’t ever forget it. Sometimes, you might go through hills and valleys, but you don’t ever forget how to hit those shots and win.”

Not so long ago, nobody would have been surprised to see Singh break Boros’ mark. No one has ever been better in golf after turning 40 than Singh. Not Boros. Not even Sam Snead. Singh’s 22 PGA Tour titles after turning 40 are better than Snead’s mark (17). They’re the most in the history of golf.

But Singh has shown signs of wearing down the last few years. There was knee surgery in ’09 and a drop off in his game.

Though Singh has won 34 PGA Tour titles, he hasn’t claimed one since 2008. The last of his three major championship titles came eight years ago. When he won nine times in 2004, he was the only real rival Tiger Woods ever faced. Singh was No. 1 for 32 weeks in that run.

That seems like a long time ago with Singh slipping to No. 74 in the world, but his game has shown signs of a return.

Singh is coming off back-to-back top-10 finishes at the British Open and RBC Canadian Open.

“I’ve been playing well for awhile,” Singh said. “I’ve been telling myself I’m swinging the club really well, but . . . All of a sudden, it clicked.”

Singh’s ball striking has long set him apart, though he has lost some of the power advantage he once enjoyed. Singh used to be among the longest hitters in the game, one of the new “bomb-and-gougers,” but he’s 41st in PGA Tour driving distance this year.

Really, though, Singh’s long putter will dictate just how much he can turn back the clock this week. He hasn’t ranked among the top 100 in putting on the PGA Tour since 2006.

Singh’s short game Friday opened the door to his 69. He hit just 11 greens in regulation but scrambled his way to pars. He needed just 26 putts.

Singh’s confidence is returning.

“I’ve started believing I can do it,” Singh said. “I was so negative for a long, long time. I’ve had great sessions on the driving range and just couldn’t take it on the golf course. I’ve finally started to believe I can do what I’m doing on the range. My head is in a better spot.”