OAKVILLE, Ont. — We are witnessing some vintage Vijay, and at the very place he broke Canadian hearts 13 years ago.
On Friday in the second round of the RBC Canadian Open, The Big Fijian — the man responsible for the most unpopular win in this tournament’s history, here at Glen Abbey, where he beat local favourite Mike Weir in a playoff back in 2004 — climbed the leaderboard at this national Open once again.
There are some differences today, of course: Singh is 54, for starters. He wears eye glasses when he plays, and there’s a smattering of grey in his dark hair.
He’s also ranked 284th in the world, and not No. 1, like he was when he won here.
But it seems Singh is turning back the clock. At one point Friday, he held a share of the lead. He finished with a two-day score of 10 under, tied for third, and two back of the early leader.
Yes, he quite enjoys this Jack Nicklaus design.
“It’s like playing Augusta,” Singh said, shortly after signing his scorecard with a 4-under-par 68, which included six birdies and a pair of bogeys. “You get to know the golf course. I know the golf course. I’ve played it many a time, and I like the golf course.”
This is Singh’s sixth straight appearance at the Canadian Open, and his best in that stretch came in 2012, when he finished in a tie for seventh. Now playing on the Champions Tour, he’s also been in the field for 16 PGA Tour tournaments this season, though he’s made the cut in just four.
His best finish this year on the PGA Tour is T16 at the Players’ Championship, back in May. So it’s been some time since we’ve seen Singh quite like this.
As he put it: “I’m doing everything good.”
The 34-time winner on Tour — that includes nine times in 2004, and a run of three straight that included the Canadian Open — has a solid fan following here, despite the fact his presence once denied Weir of the title, and means a Canadian hasn’t won his national Open since Pat Fletcher in 1954.
Either Canadian golf fans are really nice, or they have short memories.
A sampling of things you’ll hear from the gallery following the oldest player in the field: “Nice shot, Vijay — go get those young guys!” And “Let’s hear it for senior citizens!” And “He’s still got it!”
Singh’s chip-in for birdie on the par-4 No. 5 drew a big roar, and a grin from Singh under his white visor, along with a fist bump for his caddie, Danny Sahl, who also happens to be Weir’s former caddie.
Then, from a woman in the gallery, a question: “How old is he?”
Singh turned pro in 1982, 35 years ago, so he’s been doing this longer than many in this field have been breathing. This includes 26-year-old Cody Gribble, who was in his group for the first two rounds.
The former world No. 1 (back in 2004 and ’05) doesn’t attract nearly the attention of the current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but after he made the turn Singh had nearly 100 fans in tow.
He didn’t play well off the tee Friday — he missed the fairway in five of his last seven holes, for example — but his short game allowed him to save par on a few occasions. That included on No. 6, when he holed out his bunker shot.
He drained a 30-foot putt for birdie on No. 10, his first hole of the day.
“Driver let me down today. I drove it beautifully yesterday,” Singh said. “This is a golf course where you get in the fairway, you can attack pins. I practised my putting pretty good last week, so it’s working out.”
Singh has won and collected a pair of top 10s on the Champions Tour, but he says success there doesn’t translate to success here. It’s a different ballgame on the PGA Tour, and he hasn’t won at this level since December of 2008.
“You come over here and play, you’ve got to bring it,” he said. “The guys are not letting up. No matter what you shoot, they shoot lower. You just have to get your game and play hard.”
And though Singh may be the elder statesman in this field, he’s here to add another Canadian Open title to his resume, to bring his total of PGA Tour wins to 35.
“If I turn up at a golf tournament and know that I can’t win, I might as well go home,” he said. “The golf course is playing well, I’m putting well, playing well. So hopefully, shootout on the weekend.”