By Mark Lamport-Stokes
KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina (Reuters) - Something of a forgotten man over the last three years, Vijay Singh served notice that he can still contend for major titles with a superb display in tough conditions at the PGA Championship on Friday.
As winds gusted up to 30 miles an hour on the challenging Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, the Fijian former world number one ground out a three-under-par 69, the best score of the day, in the year's final major.
Seeking his first victory on the PGA Tour since the 2008 Deutsche Bank Championship, having battled assorted health problems, Singh was patience personified as he mixed five birdies with two bogeys.
"After a while you don't really think about your score," Singh told reporters after ending a grueling day in a tie for the lead at four-under 140 with Tiger Woods (71) and Carl Pettersson (74).
"You just think about each hole, each shot and just try not to mess up. It was one of my better rounds. I didn't strike the ball as good as yesterday, but I scored really, really well.
"It's one of the tougher conditions I've ever played in. And put this golf course in the middle of all that, it becomes even more brutal."
The 7,676-yard Ocean Course is the longest to stage a major championship but its challenge largely stems from its elevated saucer-like greens and the unpredictable cross-winds that blow in from the Atlantic.
"If you had a golf course like this and you asked me to go and play golf in windy conditions, I'd say no," said the 49-year-old Singh, who is renowned for his trademark loose-limbed swing.
"But it is a major, and we have to go out there and just struggle. These are really strong winds. Yeah, I love contending in the majors, but you just contend with yourself and try to make a score if you can."
Singh's career resume is already the envy of many of his peers. Renowned for his workaholic approach to practice, the tall Fijian has piled up 34 victories on the PGA Tour, including three majors.
However, the past few years have been very frustrating for him. He had surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus in January of 2009 and was then plagued by lingering back problems for much of his 2010 campaign.
This season, though, he has increasingly gained confidence in his game and a little tweak to his swing at last month's British Open, where he tied for ninth, made the difference.
"I've been playing well for a while," said Singh. "I've just been telling myself I'm swinging the club really well, but nothing is going.
"I just started believing that I can do it. I was so negative for a long, long time. I had great sessions on the driving range and just couldn't take it on the golf course.
"All of a sudden it clicked. It clicked at the British (Open), I played well at Greenbrier but didn't finish it off. The last two weeks have been great, and so far it's been unbelievable."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)