Vijay Singh shot a sensational seven under par 65 to take a commanding lead in the 66th Masters Tournament as European Tour Members dominated the leaderboard on the second day.
The 2000 Champion started the day three shots adrift of the leaders but after a front nine of 35, produced some breathtaking golf to come home in 30 strokes and record his lowest score at Augusta National.
After heavy overnight rain the course was playing to its full 7270 yards but Singh was in peak form as he moved to nine under par 145 and four ahead Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia of Spain, Argentine Angel Cabrera who all finished on five under par.
Retief Goosen, the reigning US Open Champion and winner of the 2001 Volvo Order of Merit, was lying at six under par and just three strokes adrift with seven holes to play when play was suspended for the day when a torrential rain storm hit Augusta Narional at 5pm local time.
Birdies at the 12th and 13th holes took the Singh, winner of the Shell Houston Open a fortnight ago, within a stoke of the lead held by Ireland’s Padriag Harrington but the best was still to come. With an eagle on the par five 15th Singh leapfrogged into the lead at seven under par.
With the 18th hole lengthened by some 60 yards, bringing the bunkers on the left very much back into play, the closing stretch at Augusta National is tougher than ever. Singh however played the last two perfectly, birdieing the 17th from 20 feet and then hit a towering approach to the last, the ball nestling six feet from the pin. The putt was duly converted as Singh took a firm grip on the tournament after 36 holes.
“I don’t think I have played better than that,” said Singh, winner of 11 tournaments on The European Tour International Schedule. “It was a good round today. One of the best here. I’m playing pretty well right now and the win two weeks ago gave me a lot of confidence. I’m enjoying my golf.”
Harrington led for much of the round until passed by the brilliance of Singh. After reaching the turn in 35, the Dubliner dropped shots at the 11th and 13th holes but rallied with a birdie on the 14th, holing out from eight feet. On the 15th his eagle putt from 30 lipped out but a birdie still took him to six under par. Harrington bogeyed the 17th but saved his par on the last by holing a testing 15 foot putt for a round of 71 and five under par total of 139.
“It wasn’t too eventful today,” said the Volvo Masters Andalucia Champion. “I dropped a couple of shots through mental errors but I am not disappointed. That is Augusta for you. It was important to come out playing well after dropping shots yesterday and I got off to a good start.”
Garcia, a shot off the lead at the start of play, returned a round of 71, one under par to join Harrington on five under par 139.
“I made a couple of good saves and made a good birdie at the 14th and 15th holes,” said the 22 year old Spaniard. “It was a poor chip on the 16th but a great birdie on the last. I’ve got a good feeling for tomorrow.”
Cabrera also mounted a strong challenge with a birdie at the 13th and an eagle three on the 500 yard 15ht took him to five under par.
Thomas Björn also charged up the leaderboard when he amazingly birdied the first five holes. He dropped shots at the seventh, tenth and 11th but bounced straight back with another hat-trick of birdies from the 12th to move to three under par 141 after a wonderful round of 67.
“I felt very comfortable on the range,” said the Danish Ryder Cup player. “I’ve been feeling good about my game for a while and that start was very special. Yesterday was a bit disappointing and I needed to do something to get myself back in the tournament. When I was concentrating I could see how far my golf game has come.”
Alongside Björn on three under par 141 was Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez after a round of 71 and World Number Two Phil Mickelson.