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Jeev Milkha Singh eagled the 529-yard second hole during his round of 68 Thursday at Oakland Hills. (Greenwood/Getty Images)

'Other Singh' carries India's hopes for a major championship

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You might not know Jeev Milkha Singh, but know this: His 68 on Thursday staked him to a share of the clubhouse lead at the 90th PGA Championship.

By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- There is absolutely no resemblance. No similarities in the least.

Yet the whispers in the galleries persist.

He's Vijay's brother. His son. Some distant relative. And, yes, he hears them. All of them.

Jeev Milkha Singh cocks his head and laughs. It's funny really.

And absolutely no big deal.

"I just tell them I'm the other Singh," he says with a smile.

More PGA Championship:
Pairings, tee times
Singh's scorecard
Oakland Hills changes
Full leaderboard

The one from India. The one with the quirky swing and a coach/friend who wears a traditional turban. The one who learned the game with just five clubs on sand-and-dirt courses. The one who has won two of the last four tournaments he's played -- on an aching tendon in his right foot. The one who's just hitting his stride in majors.

His father was "The Flying Sikh" -- Milka Singh -- a 1960 Olympian and former world record-holder in the 400 meters. His grandparents were killed in the 1947 Pakistan partition riots and never saw their son or grandson honored with the Padma Shri (pronounced Shree), India's equivalent of knighthood.

And did we mention he just happened to share the lead during Thursday's opening round of the 90th PGA Championship at monstrous Oakland Hills?

Shri Jeev -- think Sir Jeev -- was pretty excited about his opening 68. Not bad for someone with a brace on his right ankle and only 18 holes of practice -- nine Tuesday, nine Wednesday -- in his bag.

"No expectations," he grinned. "I was just trying to hit shot by shot, and hope that I can shoot even par and it worked out pretty good."

As in a perfect bounce -- over a slope and bunker on the second hole -- to five feet for eagle. And birdies on two of the last four holes -- the first a 7-iron to 18 inches at the 15th, the second a 3-iron shot into the 17th. He just missed a 5 footer on the final hole for birdie -- again set up by another 3-iron -- on the final hole.

"But," he said, "making par on that hole every day, I think I'll take it."

Singh has been hobbling on his ankle now for the last two months. He injured his foot -- a small tendon -- before the French Open and has been in a brace for the past four weeks. And, while he's been getting treatment on it, an MRI revealed that he needs to take four weeks off to let it heal, he's not ready to do that. Yet.

After asking if two weeks off would help and the doctor said no, Singh decided he would play here and take time off afterward.

"It feels fine, but the more drivers I hit, I feel it just kind of comes back," he said. "And you do need to hit a lot of drivers on this golf course."

And, yes, has thought about the "beware of the injured golfer" theme with Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open on a shredded knee and Padraig Harrington coming back from a wrist injury to win the Open Championship at Birkdale two weeks ago.

"You still want to give it your best and you are trying," Singh said. "But the only thing is that you've got the pain and you are trying a hundred percent, but you can't give it a hundred percent sometimes, especially when it starts hurting. And your focus goes on the pain then, worrying about hey, I need to make this putt to get this done.

"Maybe it helps that way, focuses on the pain more than when you get to the crunch putt that, oh, I need to hole this putt and I don't want to make a double or make a bogey. You know, I mean you just follow the process and routine and you make the putt for par or birdie."

The 36-year-old Singh pushed through it well enough to win the Bank Austria GolfOpen on the European Tour four weeks ago -- 18 pars to beat Simon Wakefield -- then the SEGA Sammy Cup two weeks ago in Japan. And, incidentally, he did it with a new caddie -- Janet Squire, a European caddie who used to loop for Jamie Spence.

"I think I've been fortunate," he said. "I've been playing well and pushing myself."

Singh has done that his entire career. His father introduced him to the game and he played on those dirt-and-sand courses, dreaming of a career he learned about through videotape.

From the age of 11 to 17, he could read about the majors and names like Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman and Nick Faldo, but he couldn't watch them on tv. Instead, he had to wait five or six weeks to get tapes of the tournaments. At Doug Sanders' international junior event, he caught the host's eye and he earned a scholarship to Abilene Christian University where he won the Division II NCAA Championship in 1993.

With his father and longtime friend Amritinder Singh -- no relation, Singh is India's equivalent of Smith or Jones -- to oversee his swing in 2004, Singh became the best golfer in the country, then began to reel off a list of firsts. He was the first Indian to play on the European Tour, the first won to win an event on that tour and the first Indian to play in the Masters and the first to make the cut at a U.S. Open (2002, Bethpage).

In 2006, Singh, who married his childhood sweetheart Kudrat, led the Asian Tour money list and won four events, including two in Europe and two in Japan Asian Tour events, had 18 top 10s and jumped from 367th in the world to 37th. His second European win was at the Volvo Masters at Valderrama by one shot over a strong trio of Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia.

He qualified for the 2007 Masters, then was given an international invitation to this year's Masters and finished tied for 25th.

"I was very excited," he said. "I hope I did justice by finishing 25th and made the boys happy."

And, yes, he would like to one day play on the PGA TOUR, too.

"If I get my exempt status," he said, " but I want to be global golfer. I would only play about 16 events. I would always go back and play in Europe and Asia, too."

He currently ranks among the top sportsmen in his country, although cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is India's rock star athlete. All of that is fine with Singh, whose goal is to help young golfers in his country.

"I plan to have academies in the future," said Singh, who still plays in two or three Indian Tour events each year. "But to have an academy, you need to be committed and go there every month and check on the students. If I put my name on it I want to be involved in it."

Singh is gaining confidence with every major he plays and knows patience is the key. And, although he wasn't yet born, he learned from his father's mistake in the finals in Rome in 1960.

"I think he made a big mistake, he looked in the race and he checked himself, he thought that he was going too fast and he wouldn't be able to finish and he finished fourth and all four of them broke the world record that race," he said. "And he was supposed to win the gold because he had won the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games that year and he had the best timing for 400 meters. I think it was a management error by him. "

Here, Singh faces three more grueling days of drivers with his inflamed tendon, but he also has these big events -- and courses like this Donald Ross-designed-Rees Jones-tweaked layout in perspective.

"They are going to test your patience because the pin positions, you're going to get some bad breaks, you're going to hit some shots in the rough, and you sometimes you can't get it out, sometimes you can," he said.

"I think the key is to stay patient. You've got to, if you hit a bad shot, you got it take your medicine."

The last time Singh was in a press room at a major, it was his first Masters. "And not because of my score," he smiled. "It was because I was the first Indian.

This time, it's for Shri Jeev -- the other Singh -- and his score.

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