Fiji’s Vijay Singh, the 1998 US PGA Champion, shot an opening four under par 67 to take the lead after the first round of the WGC – American Express Championship at Valderrama.
Singh, back at the course where he recorded second and fourth place finishes in the Volvo Masters in his days on the European Tour, leads America’s Jim Furyk by one with five players including Mark James and Nick Price, a winner of three major championships, a further shot off the pace.
Singh started with a bogey but immediately got back into his stride, birdieing three of the next four holes and picking up six birdies in total.
“I started making some putts which helped a lot,” he said. “I birdied the second from pretty close range and then the fourth and fifth so that settled me down. I know the golf course because I’ve played here quite a few times before. I knew what I needed to do and what clubs to hit most of the time.
“It’s a course you need to place the tee shots and iron shots precisely and with the small greens, if you hit iron shots towards the middle you are going to have short birdie putts.”
Furyk, a member of the US Ryder Cup team who won in Brookline in September, fired five birdies in his 68 while Mark James, the European Captain at The Country Club, leads the European challenge with a two under 69.
“I’ve been playing well for most of the year. I didn’t play particularly well today but didn’t three putt and made a good save on the last.”
With both the 1999 European and US Tour seasons concluding this week Colin Montgomerie is well on track to win the Volvo Order of Merit for an unprecedented seventh successive year. The Scot stands three shots off the pace on one under par, a score helped by a birdie on the 17th, a hole he freely confesses he dreads.
Indeed, minutes after Montgomerie birdied the hole, Lee Westwood, one of only three players who can catch Montgomerie, saw a 100-yard pitch spin back into the lake guarding the green. Then, with his next attempt, Westwood hit it to within 18 inches of the flag - and missed the putt to run up a double-bogey seven.
Westwood, also bogeying the last, handed in and now faces an uphill battle to achieve the victory he needs to have a hope of catching Montgomerie at the top of the Volvo Order of Merit. Sergio Garcia and South African Retief Goosen, the other two players in the race, struggled with rounds of 74 and 75 respectively.
World number one Tiger Woods, who has won five of his last six tournaments, birdied two of the last three holes for a level-par 71 to stay very much in the hunt.