Silent assassins Singh and Goosen carve up the field

Loud Trousers, quiet golfers. Is this how Royal Troon 2004 will be remembered? If Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh have much to do with the business end of these proceedings - and they usually do - then most probably. Because the two big noises who always let their clubs do the talking have taken up their customary positions in the field - near the front of it.

Loud Trousers, quiet golfers. Is this how Royal Troon 2004 will be remembered? If Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh have much to do with the business end of these proceedings - and they usually do - then most probably. Because the two big noises who always let their clubs do the talking have taken up their customary positions in the field - near the front of it.

From here they will lurk with major intent, refusing to buckle, refusing to bend, regardless of pressure, regardless of weather. The golfer who won the US Open in June and the golfer who has been winning seemingly everything else are on The Open premises. And if it is thrills you are after then you had better look elsewhere. But one must suspect that spills will be even more at a premium.

They certainly were yesterday when the wind started to whistle and the pros started to wail. Singh and Goosen stood steadfast, finding fairways that must have looked like they were shrinking before their very eyes as the crosswind did its worst. It was a day for cool heads and they do not come any cooler than the quiet men of golf.

Boring, is how some describe the world Nos 3 and 6, but if boredom be the food of golfing success then play on. No mealy-mouthed promises, no searching of the soul from these two after rounds that sent their names marching up the leaderboard, just their usual batch of self-assured honesty and respect for a links that has probably only just started its tortures.

Goosen, for instance, found consistency while most were only finding resistance. One birdie, 17 pars for the South African who somehow managed to avoid making bogey on a day when bogey was king. A one-under-par 70 was reward indeed for pinning his faith in the links mantra - good shots can be poor, poor shots can be good. "Patience," Goosen calls it. "I don't think it's anything like yesterday morning. It was very cold this morning and the wind is playing stronger and coming more across the golf course, which made it really difficult."

Not so difficult, however, that Goosen, who won the European Open the week after collecting his second US Open at Shinnecock Hills, was able to pick up a birdie three at the 7th, with a nine iron to 10 feet, and then battled his way in to consolidate his first-round 69 and head into the weekend at three under.

"When it's tougher, the better players will come to the top," he said. "I'm happy with my round today. I didn't play that well on the back nine but made a few good up and downs, especially at 17 and 18, which sort of kept my round together."

Another source of satisfaction to Goosen was the focus he was able to maintain despite suffering from the inevitable hangover a major victory brings. "It's never easy to keep going following a big one," he said. "But I had a week off last week to recover. Now I'm in a position to play well on the weekend and I think I won't be far off the lead come the end of the tournament." Singh was similarly upbeat, despite "leaving a couple of chances out there" as he moved to four under with a round of 70 that was adorned with three birdies and blemished with two bogeys.

Indeed, for a man who is a complete stranger to hyperbole, Singh was overstatement itself. "Today I struck the ball beautifully coming in whilst those left to right winds can really get you into trouble," he said. "But I am really well and I am really excited." There was even the merest hint of a smile on this most serious of countenances. "Whenever you play well you are going to enjoy it, but I was pretty relaxed out there," added the 41-year-old Fijian. "It's hard enough in conditions out there and you tend to tighten up so I was trying to relax, breathe a little better and score a little better."

Mission accomplished, which puts Singh bang in the picture to exorcise the Open demons of Sandwich last year, where he finished one shot off Ben Curtis in a tie for second. "I don't know if I'm owed an Open but I know I have to go out there and grab it,' he said. "I was given chances before in The Open and didn't take them and I am in a great position again this week."

If Troon does happen to represent Singh's salvation then he would overtake Goosen's haul of two majors. But that would be of little significance to a South African who long ago resigned himself to the up-and-down nature of this strange game. "When you play well you love golf, when you play badly you hate it. It's a tough game we know, tough to keep playing well all the time." How is it that Singh and Goosen make it look so consistently easy then?

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