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Singh picks up right where he left off

The calendar changed. Vijay Singh didn't.

Coming off one of the best years in golf, Singh opened the new season with an early statement Thursday at the Mercedes Championships, overpowering the Plantation Course at Kapalua and making just enough putts for 7-under-par 66 and a one-shot lead over Craig Parry.

It was the same kind of golf that carried Singh to nine victories and a record $10.9-million in 2004. And even with Tiger Woods showing more signs that his game is back, the 41-year-old Fijian remained an imposing presence.

"That's the way he's been playing," Woods said after opening with 68. "It's a continuation of it."

Singh had said he wanted to start the year strong at the winners-only Mercedes Championships, just to remind everyone that he was still the man to beat. No one could argue with that on a sunny, tropical day along the rugged shores of Maui.

All it took was a three-hole stretch at the turn _ short birdie putts on Nos. 10, 11 and 12 _ for Singh to quickly work his way up the leaderboard, into a position that has become all too familiar.

Woods was among those tied for the lead on the back nine, but he struggled on the greens and he could not keep pace with Singh, who put himself in enough good positions to make birdies.

"I made nothing today," said Woods, who missed eight birdie putts inside 18 feet. "I had a hard time getting the speed."

Woods routinely launched drives past 320 yards, and all but three of them found the short grass.

It was a solid start to the year, not just for Singh, but for the rest of the PGA Tour. Anticipation is high for most of the elite players to be on top of their game, and Thursday did not disappoint.

Sergio Garcia overcame a sluggish start for 5-under 68, joining Woods, Stewart Cink and Jonathan Kaye. Ernie Els, Chad Campbell and Adam Scott were among those another shot back.

FUZZY RECOVERING: Fuzzy Zoeller said he expects to play a full season on the Champions Tour after surgery to clear two blocked arteries around his heart.

The 53-year-old Zoeller had an angioplasty Dec. 30 after doctors found an 80 percent blockage in one artery and 70 percent in the other.

OUTBACK: Craig Stadler, 2004 Champions Tour Player of the Year who won five times, is among the recent commitments to next month's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at the TPC of Tampa Bay.

The tournament also announced commitments from Tom Kite, recently inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Hale Irwin, the all-time victory leader in Champions Tour history, and Tampa's Gary Koch.

Others already committed were two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, who recently turned 50, and past champions Bruce Fleisher, Dave Stockton and Larry Nelson.

The tournament is Feb. 25-27 and features a pro-am format. Each of 76 pros will be paired with an amateur partner for the first two rounds, with the top 12 teams advancing to Sunday's final round, when all pros compete. For ticket information call (813) 265-4653 or visit www.outbackproam.com.

SINGH DEAL: Singh signed a long-term contract extension with Cleveland Golf Co., where he's been an endorser since 2000, but no terms were given.

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