Singh mastery dawns

Solid morning finish to 3rd round set up taking of green jacket

Masters his 2nd major title

Morning misses, shot in creek doom Duval

April 10, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The record book will read that Vijay Singh won the 64th Masters at Augusta National last night. It will say that his 3-under-par 69 in the final round gave Singh a four-round total of 10-under-par 278 to finish three shots ahead of Ernie Els and four ahead of David Duval and Loren Roberts.

In winning the second major championship of his eight-year career on the PGA Tour and becoming only the second player of color to put on the coveted green jacket, the former PGA champion will tell you something else: that he probably won the tournament yesterday morning.

That's when Singh came out to finish the third round that was delayed by rain and lightning for more than two hours Saturday afternoon, then suspended by darkness with Singh and Duval on the 15th fairway. What transpired in the course of those four holes played mightily in the outcome.

Singh made four straight pars, including a 15-foot putt to save par after hitting in the bunker on the par-4 17th hole. Duval missed two short birdie putts, including a tricky 3-footer right after Singh made his par. It helped Singh take a three-shot lead over Duval going into the afternoon round.

"That kind of gave me a lift," said Singh, 37, who was born in Fiji and is of Indian descent. "I was very confident with a three-shot lead. As long as I played solid, I knew they would have to catch me. It was very important. I said to myself, `Don't lose any shots going into the afternoon.' "

Duval didn't think it played a major factor.

"I think in the scheme of things it's irrelevant," said Duval.

One fact was indisputable: Singh was never caught. When Duval bogeyed the par-5 13th hole after Singh averted disaster on the par-3 12th -- his tee shot bounced out of an azalea bush behind the green and into a bunker -- it was just a matter of keeping his distance.

The door opened slightly for Els when Singh followed a birdie at the par-5 15th with another three-putt bogey at the par-3 16th, but the former two-time U.S. Open champion failed to capitalize by missing birdie putts of 8, 15 and 12 feet on the last three holes.

"It just wasn't meant to be," said Els, who made his charge by shooting a 4-under-par 68. "If I had made that putt on 18, I still might have lost, but at least I would have given Vijay a chance to think about it."

Playing a hole behind Els, Singh turned the par-4 18th into a victory stroll. He placed his drive safely in the fairway, put his approach to about 10 feet and calmly sank the birdie putt. Singh lifted his putter, plucked his ball out of the cup and kissed it, then hugged his caddie and 9-year-old son Qass.

"I was pretty focused out there all day," said Singh, whose previous victory in a major came two years ago at the PGA Championship. "I never at one time had a clear lead until I got to the 15th hole. But walking up that 18th hole, knowing that a two-putt was going to win the golf tournament was probably the greatest feeling I've had for a long, long time."

The feeling Duval had was becoming too painfully familiar for a player ranked second in the world behind Tiger Woods. By the time he had reached 18, all Duval was thinking about was another opportunity lost at the Masters.

Two years ago, he had a three-shot lead with three holes to play and wound up losing by a shot to Mark O'Meara. Last year, Duval fell out of contention when he hit into the water and double-bogeyed the par-4 11th. Then came the errant approach on 13 yesterday.

In the fairway of the 485-yard par-5 that played easier than any hole all week, Duval stepped away from his 196-yard shot twice after watching Singh put his own approach on the green, and changed clubs once before deciding on a 5-iron. The ball hit the bank of the hill by the green and bounced into Rae's Creek, the watery grave for many contenders over the years.

"I was trying to hit it in the same area that Vijay hit it," said Duval, who narrowly missed a 10-footer for par to drop to 6-under, three shots behind Singh at the time. "I decided on the right line and the right club and hit a poor golf shot. I feel it was probably the only poor shot I hit this weekend. I really don't know what else to say about it."

Duval wouldn't second-guess himself, but he would point to the breaks he thought Singh had received earlier.

Even before his tee shot on 12, Singh hit into a pond in front of the 11th green. He received a correct but favorable ruling that allowed him to chip from just off the green rather than pitch over the pond again. He made a 90-foot pitch to within 3 feet and took his bogey.

"I think the drop made it all," he said later. "The way the drop went into the water on 11, and then I dropped pretty close to the green, that angle was much easier to get up and down than going all the way to the ball drop [area]. When I saw the ball go in, I said, `That's not too bad.' A lot of guys make bogey on 11 anyway, so all I needed to do was get up and down."

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