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Singh doesn't putt around at Buick

Vijay Singh took the pressure off his shaky putting game with solid driving and pinpoint short-iron play.

Hitting it close on hole after hole, Singh shot an 8-under-par 63 yesterday to take the first-round lead in the Buick Classic at Harrison, N.Y., the final PGA Tour event before the US Open next week at Shinnecock Hills.

Singh, seeking his third victory in the tournament, played his final nine holes -- the front nine on the Westchester Country Club course -- in 6-under 30 to take a one-stroke lead over Fredrik Jacobson.

"I've been hitting the ball really well the last few weeks, but the putter has been letting me down," Singh said. "I hit a bunch of shots close, and had a lot of tap-in birdies. From 3-4 feet you can't pick too many bad lines."

David Frost, the 1992 winner on the hilly, tree-lined course, opened with a 66, and Fred Couples topped a large group at 67. Ernie Els, a two-time Buick Classic champion coming off a victory last Sunday in the Memorial, was five strokes back at 68 in a large group that included Davis Love, David Toms, and Padraig Harrington.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson opened with a 69 in an event that features 25 of the top 30 players on the money list. Singh had nine birdies -- eight from inside 10 feet -- and one bogey to finish a stroke off the course record set by Dan Sikes in 1967 and matched by Jim Wright (1976) and Peter Jacobsen (1982).

The big Fijian, the Tour leader with three victories and earnings of $4,448,861, birdied six of his final eight holes.

PGA European -- Miles Tunnicliff of England and Australian Nick O'Hern shared the lead at 5-under 67 after the first round of the Scottish PGA at Perthshire, Scotland. A thunderstorm suspended play for about three hours in the afternoon with 78 players still on the Gleneagles course, but everyone was able to finish.

Irish Ryder Cup standout Paul McGinley and Spain's Santiago Luna were one shot behind the leaders at 4 under. They were followed by Richard Green of Australia, Sweden's Patrik Sjoeland, and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who each shot 69.

Colin Montgomerie was at 1 over after six holes, then made four birdies and two bogeys to finish at 1 under.

. . .

Confirming what had been expected, Arnold Palmer announced yesterday that he would play in the upcoming Bank of America Championship at Nashawtuc Country Club in Concord, Mass. It will be Palmer's sixth straight appearance in the tournament, which will be held June 25-27. Now 74, Palmer plays very few competitive events, but the presence of some very close friends and business associates in the Boston area makes the Champions Tour event one that he pencils in at the start of the season.

On the PGA Tour, Rhode Island natives Billy Andrade and Brad Faxon have committed to play in the Buick Championship (formerly the Greater Hartford Open) at Cromwell, Conn., Aug. 23-29.

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