Vijay Singh edges ahead on rough day
Will MacKenzie still acts like a newcomer on the PGA Tour.
He's not playing like one.
The 32-year-old free spirit has regaled audiences this week with his tales from the great outdoors, when he quit golf as a teenager and slept in the back of his van for five years so he could surf, snowboard, kayak, climb mountains and not have a care in the world.
But during an interview with The Golf Channel, he made "the rookie mistake of the century." Asked if he was sleeping in the Ritz-Carlton or his van this week at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, MacKenzie said he was at the Ritz -- then gave his room number.
The light on his phone was blinking when he got back. The voice mailbox was full.
And the calls kept coming.
"I want to thank everyone that called me from wherever," he said. "I really appreciate that. But I don't need to start doing that, giving out my room number. I got a lot of calls and a lot of support, but I had to turn my phone off because I didn't want to get woken up at night. But you know what? That's what it's all about, the fans."
They had plenty to cheer on a dreary Friday at Kapalua.
Vijay Singh was flawless until one bad swing on the par-5 18th, but he managed to escape with par. He pulled his tee shot into the native grasses, dropped in the rough, then hit a remarkable shot into 25 feet and two putts later had a second straight 4-under 69.
That put Singh at 8-under 138, one shot clear of MacKenzie (70) and Trevor Immelman, the rookie of the year on the PGA Tour last season who birdied two of his last three holes for a 68.
The elements changed, but the Plantation course at Kapalua remained a stern test.
The start of the second round was delayed 1 hour, 20 minutes because of a light rain that began overnight and didn't stop until an hour after the round began. The trade wind picked up strength to 35 mph gusts as it tried shoo the clouds away. Singh thought it was nearly unplayable as he made the turn in a tie for the lead, but he managed two more birdies to take the lead.
"I'd like it to calm down a little bit," Singh said.
He had few complaints about his position. He has finished a combined four shots behind three-time defending champion Stuart Appleby the last three years, and has not finished out of the top 10 since the winners-only tournament moved here in 1999.
Appleby shot 72 and was seven shots behind in his bid to tie a PGA Tour record with his fourth straight win at the same event.
Davis Love III (71), Chris Couch (70) and J.B. Holmes (68) were at 5-under 141, with Adam Scott (69) another shot behind.
Holmes was surprised to be in contention. He learned 20 minutes before his tee time that he would be playing alone because Arron Oberholser withdrew because of a back injury. Holmes made a sloppy bogey on the opening hole and showed no signs of doing anything grand until a chip from deep grass in the collar of a bunker on the ninth for a tap-in birdie.
Starting with a 20-foot putt on the 11th, Holmes ran off four straight birdies. He felt so confident at the end of that stretch that he attacked the 305-yard 14th with driver, even though it was into the wind and surrounded by bunkers. He came up 20 yards short of the green to set up an easy birdie.
The story at Kapalua continued to be the weather, with rain that made the 7,411-yard play even longer, and wind that put a premium on controlling the flight of shots and finding the right pace on the putts.
Singh was superb.
He took the lead for the first time with an approach to 20 feet on the par-5 fifth hole for an eagle, and no one passed him the rest of the round. He rarely came close to making bogey, and picked up birdies on the 14th with a perfect pitch to a foot, and a 15-foot putt on the par-5 15th. But he almost lost it on the 18th.
"I was in control of my whole game all through the day, and just tried to let one go on the last hole and got quick," Singh said. "I hit a good drive yesterday and made par, and a bad drive today and made par. So it kind of evened out."
MacKenzie dearly wanted to make the 10-foot birdie putt on No. 18, knowing it would tie Singh for the lead and put them together in the final pairing Saturday. MacKenzie qualified for this tournament by winning the Reno-Tahoe Open, held opposite a World Golf Championship, and he still hasn't played with the elite in the game.
He knows Singh well enough that he finished the Fijian's specially made plate of pasta for lunch. Singh calls him "Bro," which is what the three-time major champion calls people he likes.
Everyone else -- at least Thursday night -- calls his room. MacKenzie was smart enough not to repeat his room number.
Among the calls he received was someone from Wisconsin, a police officer from North Carolina who was injured in a car accident and inspired by MacKenzie's story, and even one call from someone with an Australian accent named John MacKenzie who suggested they might be cousins.
MacKenzie is from North Carolina, not Australia.
Sometimes, it seems like he's from a different world.