- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

AUGUSTA, Ga. The second round of the 66th Masters was a virtual washout yesterday, leaving only Vijay Singh-ing in the rain at Augusta National.

While most of the field bogged down on the soggy 7,270-yard layout, Singh proved himself a formidable mudder, posting a flawless second-round 65 to reach 9-under, four strokes clear of the nearest competitor to have completed 36 holes.

"I'm surprised I'm 9-under," said Singh, who won the Masters two years ago when high winds and a cold front turned the tournament into a similar test of foul-weather survival. "I don't really like playing in wet weather, so I was a little worried when I got to the range this morning and it was coming down pretty good. I was really glad to see the rain quit. And I hit the ball really good, really solid, all day and putted very nicely."

The 39-year-old Singh was among one of the last groups fortunate enough to complete play before a deluge descended on the course just before 5 p.m., dumping several inches of rain on the property and forcing the suspension and eventual postponement of play. A total of 38 players failed to complete their second rounds, including U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen (6-under), defending champion Tiger Woods (3-under) and sentimental favorite Arnold Palmer, who had his farewell lap around Augusta National drowned by Mother Nature.

Play will resume at 7:45 a.m. today, with third-round action scheduled to start at approximately 10:45. The limited nature of the field, which will be trimmed to the low 44 players and ties after the conclusion of the second round, should make completing 54 holes by this evening likely given the clear weather forecast.

"The bad thing is, this course will never completely dry out now," said Spain's Sergio Garcia, who carded a 71 yesterday to join Angel Cabrera and Padraig Harrington just beneath Singh on the leader board at 5-under. "It's too bad, because everyone thinks about fast, hard greens at the Masters, but we're not going to get that this year. It's going to play long and soft, and that means lots of long irons."

Nothing could be a better fit for Singh, who is among the world's top handful of long-iron players and probably has spent more time beating balls on the range than any three other tour pros. Fiji's finest got a taste of the new-look Augusta National two weeks ago under similarly soft conditions and feasted on the layout, riding his superb iron-play to a 63 that left him feeling extremely confident about a green jacket redux.

"You shoot a low number like that on a practice day and you say, 'Wow, that wasn't that difficult,'" said Singh, who played that round the day after winning the Houston Open (March 25-31). "It kind of eased my mind a little."

Apparently so. Undoubtedly, nobody else slept easily last night with a proven major champion like Singh leading by a comfortable margin heading into the weekend fray. Least of all Woods, who knows he must put together a sterling Saturday to have any chance of defending his title.

Playing in the day's next-to-last pairing, the 26-year-old megastar completed just 10 holes, surrounding a birdie at No.7 with nine pars to keep himself in the competitive mix. But if Woods hopes to make a serious surge up the board, he'll have to start giving himself more opportunities with his approach shots, which afforded him just one birdie bid from inside 20 feet yesterday.

That said, Woods certainly represents Uncle Sam's best chance on a leader board almost laughably devoid of American players. Of the 11 players presently at 3-under or better, only three are Yanks: Woods, Phil Mickelson (3-under) and Chris DiMarco (3-under). And none of the top five players on the board bows to the Stars and Stripes.

"You would expect to have more Americans up there," said Garcia after his second-round 71. "But this is an international sport, and there are a lot of guys who can play this game from other places. It's happened here before anyway. There was a time when I was a kid when a European won the Masters almost every year."

True enough. From 1988 until 1996, Europeans donned the green jacket seven times.

Garcia, the 22-year-old sensation still seeking his first major title, would love nothing more than to start another such streak of European dominance.

"For sure, I'd love to win the Masters more than any tournament," said Garcia. "A streak would be even better, but I'm not greedy. Just please, please let me have one."

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