Saturday, 14 August 2004
Fiji's Vijay Singh, an Honorary Member of The European Tour, shares the lead at the halfway stage of the 86th US PGA Championship with Justin Leonard on nine under par after a second superb day at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, where four European Tour Members occupy top ten positions.

World Number Three Singh shot a four under par 68 to move to nine under par 135, sharing the lead with Leonard while World Number Two Ernie Els, the current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit, and fellow European Tour Member Darren Clarke lie just one off the pace alongside American Briny Baird.

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington is also very much in the hunt on five under par after a round of 71 while England’s Luke Donald is only just outside the top ten positions a further shot back.

Singh, the 1998 US PGA Champion and Masters Champion in 2000, is chasing his third Major title and his fifth victory of the year and, after an early setback with a bogey on the first, soon hit full stride with five birdies in his next 11 holes to move into a share of the lead.

Although he dropped a shot on the 15th, he was back on level terms with Leonard with a birdie on the par five 16th before completing his 68.

Singh had a chance to overtake Tiger Woods as World Number One but for that to happen Woods had to miss the cut. Woods has not missed the 36-hole cut in a tournament since the 1997 Canadian Open, 128 events ago. For much of the day he looked as if that run was going to come to an end but in the manner of a true champion, Woods rose to the challenge and his pride won through as he birdied the 13th, 16th and tough par three 17th holes to claw his way back inside the cut mark to ensure his run would continue. Woods has yet to miss a weekend in a Major Championship since turning professional.

Another player with Major Championship pedigree is Leonard, the 1997 Open Champion, who shot a three under par 69 for a nine under par 135 to lead by one as he chases his second Major title.

“I’ve had a good couple of days and two to go but those are going to be the tough ones,” said Leonard. “The first two days you have to get in position. It is a real plus to have played well but it doesn’t really start until the weekend and especially Sunday.”

Clarke, beaten into second by Leonard in 1997 at Royal Troon, responded superbly to the shock of running up a double bogey seven on only his second hole of the day.

The Ulsterman, one ahead overnight following a brilliant 65, required two attempts to get out of a bunker on the monster 618 yard 11th - like the eighth and 18th back playing to its full length. But he came back with birdies at the 14th, 16th, 17th and then pitched to seven feet on the second. Although he dropped a shot on the sixth, he holed a monster putt of 80 feet on the next hole to regain a share of the lead. But no sooner had he holed from across the green than he three putted the next to drop back to eight under par. A par at the last completed a one under par 71 for an eight under par total of 136.

“I made a mistake on the second,” said Clarke. “Hit a lovely tee shot and my caddie Billy said aim for the TV tower. I just aimed for the wrong one. But after that it was a case of keep on going and don’t get too aggressive.”

As for the putt on the seventh, Clarke said: “That was totally unexpected. But I had a lot of chances coming in but didn’t make them. Overall I’m pretty pleased. I hit a lot of really good putts again. I’m really looking forward to the weekend.”

Ernie Els stepped up his challenge in the fourth and final Major Championship of the year with two under par 70 to lie alongside Clarke and American Briny Baird on eight under par. Els, runner-up in both the Masters Tournament and the Open Golf Championship and joint ninth in the US Open, has one last chance this season to add to his three previous Major Championship victories and is determined to put those disappointments behind him at Whistling Straits.

The South African spelled out his intentions with three birdies in his first five holes and when he birdied the tenth he was two clear at ten under par. But bogeys on both par fives on the back nine, the 11th and 16th holes, left him, just off the pace at the halfway stage.

“I had some really good up and downs on the front nine and then made a good birdie on the tenth but then didn’t play that well coming in,” said Els. “Coming down the stretch downwind I would have liked to have liked to have picked up some shots but everyone makes mistakes and I am still right in there.

“I know what I have to work on. I got a little out of sync with my driver on the back nine and need to work on that, then I am looking forward to tomorrow.”

Should Els win or finish second this week, he could overhaul Woods at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking. Woods has been Number One for 331 weeks, equalling Greg Norman’s record, 261 of those weeks being uninterrupted but his reign is under threat.

Harrington is another European Tour Member relishing the competition over the weekend having moved to five under par and joint sixth place with a one under par 71. Donald followed his opening 67, five under par, with a one over par 73 to lie four over par and very much in contention.

Donald has the added incentive of trying to force his way into the European Ryder Cup Team, his victory in the Scandinavian Masters by Carlsberg in Sweden two weeks ago lifting his hopes of a debut at Oakland Hills, Bloomfield Township, Michigan from September 16-19.

After the fireworks of the opening round in which he picked up eight birdies with three dropped shots, Donald only managed the one birdie in his second round.

That was in stark contrast to Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez who fought back from a four over par 76 in the opening round with a best of day 65, birdieing the last two holes to lie three under par, hauling himself right back into contention.

Five time Major Champion Nick Faldo of England made a dramatic move up the leaderboard, picking up five birdies to move to five under only to bogey the last three to finish two under par.

"It was disappointing, but it was good to get to five under in the first place," he said. "The seventh and eighth are brutal holes, but it was a bad bogey on nine." He bunkered his approach there.

Swede Fredrik Jacobson, needing a strong week to force his way back into the qualifying places for the Ryder Cup, matched Faldo’s 70 to lie at two under par. Volvo PGA Champion Scott Drummond, playing his first Major Championship in the United States, added a level par 72 to his opening 71 to lie on one under par in a group that included Ireland’s Paul McGinley and Frenchman Jean-Francois Remesy, two players in the hunt for a Ryder Cup berth.

Masters Champion Phil Mickelson, first, second and third in the first three Majors of the year, looked to be moving into a challenging position when he got to six under, but then had a double bogey and two bogeys before closing with a birdie to stand three under par.

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