Fiji’s Vijay Singh, trying to become the PGA’s oldest winner at age 53, and Ernie Els, trying to end a three-year title drought, moved into contention Friday at the National.
Unlikely co-leaders Jon Rahm, a 21-year-old Spaniard in his professional debut, and Billy Hurley, a 607th-ranked local product seeking his first PGA win, shared the top spot on 11-under 131 after 36 holes of the Tiger Woods-hosted event at Congressional Country Club.
But Singh, a three-time major winner, fired 66 to stand third on 134 and 46-year-old South African Els, a four-time major champion who won the 1997 US Open at Congressional, shot 69 to share fourth on 135 with Americans Harold Varner, Webb Simpson and Bill Haas.
“Us old guys can still play a bit,” Els said. “I’m not quite as old as Vijay but I’m getting there. I know he has been working hard on his game and has been quietly optimistic. Same with me. So I would love to see if we can go really low tomorrow.”
With a victory, 210th-ranked Singh would snap an eight-year win drought and break the PGA winner’s age record of Sam Snead, who was 52 years, 10 months and eight days when he won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open.
“It would be a good thing to win,” Singh said. “But I’m not thinking about that right now. It’s only halfway. Have to focus on my game tomorrow and see what happens.”
Singh, a three-time major champion, has not won on the tour since the 2008 Deutsche Bank Championship. The World Golf Hall of Famer’s share of sixth last February at the Honda Classic was his lone top-25 showing in the past year.
“I’ve been putting quite well for six, eight months. Nothing had really been going in,” Singh said. “I saw some good lines today and it went in.”
Els, ranked 296th, hasn’t won since the European Tour’s 2013 BMW International and has not won a US event since 2010 at Bay Hill. But he and Singh have served notice to their rivals.
“I played with Ernie for two days and he played beautifully so he’s certainly a guy we’re going to have to worry about – and Vijay,” Haas said. “I hope those guys are battling it out on the weekend – and I could be a third member of that party.”
Singh’s 59 worldwide career victories include 34 on the PGA Tour and major wins at the 2000 Masters and the 1998 and 2004 PGA Championships.
Els owns 19 PGA wins among his 71 worldwide titles, which include the 1994 and 1997 US Opens and the 2002 and 2012 British Opens.
‘I SURPRISED MYSELF’
Rahm, last week’s US Open low amateur and Thursday’s first-round leader, made four birdies on the front nine but opened and closed the back nine with bogeys to offset birdies at 16 and 17.
“It could be one of the best ball-striking days I’ve ever had,” Rahm said. “I was really comfortable. I surprised myself how good I hit the shots. To play the way I did I’m very proud of myself.”
Hurley, from nearby northern Virginia, spent five years in the US Navy before reaching the tour and has not cracked the top 30 in a stroke-play event for more than a year. But he fired a 65, the day’s low round, to share the lead as local fans cheered.
“It’s nice to have the support and it definitely helps with momentum,” Hurley said. “Helps keep your sprits up even if things aren’t going so great.”
FOWLER FINDING CONFIDENCE
World No 6 Rickie Fowler fired his second 68 to join fellow Americans Robert Garrigus and Mark Hubbard on 136. He reached the weekend with only one bogey after missed cuts at the US Open, Memorial and Players Championship.
“It’s nice when you step on a tee and feel confident,” Fowler said. “Looking forward to finally getting some tee times on the weekend.”
Four spots available in the British Open at this event would now belong to Singh, Rahm, Hurley and Varner. Els, Simpson and Haas are already in the field at Royal Troon in three weeks.