- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 14, 2003

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — It’s official: Olympia Fields is a major pushover.

Pacing a field that ravaged the layout and rewrote the record books, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk surged to the top of the leader board yesterday at the 103rd U.S. Open, establishing a 36-hole Open scoring mark at 7-under 133.

“The amazing thing is Vijay’s out there shooting 63 with two bogeys,” said defending champion Tiger Woods (4 under), who moved into weekend position himself with a second-round 66.

Singh, who went out in the afternoon with Furyk’s morning 66 already on the board, became just the second man to match the single-round major scoring record of 63 twice, joining Greg Norman in the illustrious category.

“I wasn’t thinking about a particular score when I started,” said Singh, who also carded a 63 in the second round of the 1993 PGA Championship at Inverness. “I was thinking about making birdies and trying to get as close to Furyk as possible.”

Singh, 40, caught Furyk with a 20-foot birdie putt on No.15 and had midrange bids to best the scoring record on all three of Olympia Fields’ closing holes, skirting the lip on 16 and narrowly missing at 17.

“After I missed that putt on 17, [playing partner] Rocco Mediate said he wanted to see 61. He wanted to see the 63 broken,” said Singh, seeking a third major title to go with his 1998 PGA Championship and 2000 Masters victories. “I didn’t even know that was the record until he told me. … I was hitting it close and feeling good about my game. I wasn’t really too emotionally concerned with my score.”

During his 21-year professional career, Singh rarely has seemed emotionally concerned about anything. Perhaps he was emotionally cauterized back in the mid-‘80s, when a cheating violation on the Malaysian Tour led to a two-year suspension that he served as an impoverished teaching pro in golf-bankrupt Borneo.

Just about the time most golf fans had forgiven him for altering his scorecard overseas, he decided to speak out against Annika Sorenstam’s recent foray into men’s golf. His pre-Colonial comments returned him to infamy status and led to one of the more exciting moments in his round yesterday.

As Singh was walking off the 14th green, a fan mocked him by chanting Sorenstam’s name. Although he claims he never heard the man, Singh was clearly seen sarcastically waving with his putter as police escorted the patron off the property.

But perhaps Singh was simply bidding adieu to the slew of records that fell yesterday. After years of suffering through the USGA’s annual version of boot camp, players treated soft, windless Olympia Fields like a trip to Club Med. The day’s scoring average (71.9) was the lowest in second-round Open history and the fifth-lowest in any round. And the cut, which spared 68 players at 3-over 143 or better, was the second lowest in Open history, perhaps implying why the USGA hadn’t held its prized event at the suburban Chicago track in 75 years.

“We’ve never seen scores like this at an Open before,” said first-round hero Tom Watson (3 under), who remained in contention despite a second-round 72. “It seems like half the field is in the red.”

In actuality, only 26 players reached the midway mark under par. Virtual unknowns Stephen Leaney and Jonathan Byrd are two behind Singh and Furyk at 5 under. But perhaps the most likely challengers can be found among the quintet at 4 under, a pack that includes Woods, three-time major champion Nick Price and 1997 British Open champ Justin Leonard.

“I’m right where I need to be,” said Woods, whose dramatic improvement off the tee led to a slew of birdie chances. In Thursday’s opening round, Woods hit just six fairways; yesterday he found 10 of 14.

“Being in the fairway allowed me to take advantage of the soft greens,” Woods said. “And they are very soft. … I think that’s because of the moisture we get overnight, the low clouds, the morning fog. It’s just damp, and the greens just can’t get baked out. And anytime you give guys out here soft greens, they’re going to go low, even at a U.S. Open.”

Of course, there were a fair number of former major champions who failed to cash in on the benign conditions. Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal (4 over), six-time major maven Nick Faldo (10 over) and world No.3 Davis Love (11 over) were the most significant casualties.

“If you don’t hit the fairways and you’re not making any putts, that’s a bad combination at a U.S. Open,” said Love, a three-time winner on Tour this season who many thought would challenge for the title. “I’m sorry I’m not going to be a part of it, because it could be a real interesting sprint to the finish line this weekend.”

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