Vijay Singh feels he is playing as well as he ever has. Now if he can just get a win to prove it.
Singh played bogey-free Friday on Bethpage Black for a 4-under 67, giving him a share of the lead with Bob Estes at The Barclays among the early starters. The 49-year-old Fijian has no victories on the PGA Tour since 2008, the year he won back-to-back playoff events on his way to capturing the FedEx Cup.
Asked how close he was to being good enough to win again, Singh shrugged and said, "Well, I'm leading."
The late starters figured to have a tougher time as the greens became more crispy and bumpy, though Nick Watney was making an early surge with an eagle and birdie on the par 5s on the front nine. Some of the others were struggling.
Padraig Harrington, the first-round leader, bogeyed his opening three holes. Tiger Woods started with back-to-back bogeys before wiping those off with two birdies.
Estes missed the cut last week in the Wyndham Championship and was No. 103 in the FedEx Cup standings, needing to at least make the cut if he wanted to get into the top 100 who advance to the second playoff event next week outside Boston. He treated the opening two rounds like Q-school, knuckled down and had a 66 on Friday despite a bogey on the final hole.
Singh and Estes were at 7-under 135.
Being atop the leaderboard is no guarantee that the week will end well for Singh. Only two weeks ago, he was tied with Woods going into the weekend at the PGA Championship, though his hopes faded quickly. He went 74-77 on the weekend at Kiawah Island and tied for 36th.
Still, the big Fijian is taking baby steps after two years of injuries to his knee and back.
"I think I'm playing as good as I did in any part of my career," he said. "I'm hitting the ball as long. I'm hitting the ball straighter. I feel a lot of confidence in me. It's just I need to get some kind of momentum going. I thought I had it at the PGA, but I kind of let it slip there on Sunday. But it's all about how you're hitting it, and right now I'm striking the ball good. My distance is back, and I'm literally pain-free, which makes a whole lot of difference."
Singh had three par saves from the bunker, and that was really as close as he ever came to making a bogey.
Johnson Senden had a 68 and was one shot out of the clubhouse lead.
Perhaps the most significant move came from Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who had to withdraw last week in North Carolina despite opening with a 68 because of lingering stomach problems from a parasite. The rest did him well, and he ran off seven birdies Friday morning for a 65 to get within three shots of the clubhouse lead.
"It was a nice Friday for me," he said. "I expected it to be easier than it was yesterday morning, and that's what we had."
Stenson is No. 117 in the FedEx Cup standings, and this is an important stretch. He still has to play two more PGA Tour events after The Barclays to get his minimum 15 tournaments in, and he still has six more to meet his European Tour requirements. If he doesn't advance in the playoffs, he would have to juggle two Fall Series events with some trips to Europe and Asia at the end of the year.
"The most important part was to play well and make the weekend," Stenson said.
Estes already has played plenty this year, just not as well or as often as he would like. After missing the cut last week, he realized he couldn't afford to do that again.
"When I get in that (Q-school) mindset, I tend to play better," he said. "And I just really, really focused. But yeah, starting out after I missed the cut last week, I was like, 'I've got to find some game in a hurry.'"
On the Ryder Cup front, Rickie Fowler had a 70 and was at 5-under 137, helping his hopes of being a captain's pick for the second straight time. Others under consideration didn't fare so well. Hunter Mahan, who was ninth in the standings to miss an automatic spot, won't make the cut for the second straight tournament. Jim Furyk also was on the verge of missing the cut.