Major comeback gives Singh PGA victory

Down 2 with 3 holes left, he rallies to gain playoff, defeat Leonard, DiMarco

Golf

August 16, 2004|By Chris Dufresne | Chris Dufresne,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HAVEN, Wis. -- He fired a 4-over-par 76 on the final day, played 21 holes and made one -- count it, one -- birdie and may draw up papers today to file for divorce from his putter.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome in and congratulate the winner of the 86th PGA Championship, Vijay Singh.

"Wow," Singh said, "a bit surprised that I won the way I scored today."

Ugliest win he has ever been involved in?

"A good 76," Singh would joke.

Yesterday's overtime final round at Whistling Straits proved what can happen to a golfer if he makes his tee time.

Singh probably had no business winning his third major title, but, hey, if no one else wanted it, right?

In the end, as the sun set on a silhouette of silos after four feel-good days of golf in America's dairy land, Singh defeated Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco by one shot in a three-hole playoff to claim the Wanamaker Trophy.

Singh, Leonard and DiMarco all finished 72 holes at 8-under 280.

Leonard and DiMarco officially ended in a tie for second, and Ernie Els and Chris Riley tied for fourth at 7-under 281.

Phil Mickelson got the tough wind conditions he pined for but couldn't take advantage. He shot a 2-over 74 and finished in a three-way tie for sixth at 6-under 282.

Singh's 4-over 76 was the highest 18-hole final round by a PGA champion.

In 20 years, though, who is going to care?

His victory probably will cinch for him Player of the Year honors and, perhaps within the month, move him past Tiger Woods for top spot in the world golf rankings.

Never mind that yesterday, Singh wasn't even the player of the day.

What Singh did was keep his head in the game and grind long enough, never in his life dreaming that his lone birdie of the day, on the first playoff hole, would be good enough for his fifth PGA Tour victory of the season.

Singh, 41, always has been one of the tour's most diligent practitioners.

"This is a living for me," he said, "this is my livelihood."

He now has another major title to go with his victories at the 1998 PGA and 2000 Masters.

Singh almost punishes himself on the practice tee and plays like a man who knows he's on the biological clock.

"I don't have that many years to contend, I don't think so, anyway," he said. "I'd like to win a few more before I finish."

Yesterday, Singh survived a game of musical chairs during regulation play and found himself in a playoff with DiMarco and Leonard only because Leonard missed a 12-foot putt on the final hole that could have sent everyone home.

The PGA Championship uses a three-hole, aggregate score playoff format and yesterday's overtime session started on the 361-yard, par-4 10th.

Singh crushed a driver, knocked his second shot close and rolled in for a birdie to take a one-shot lead over his playoff partners, both of whom made par.

Singh appeared ready to close out the match on the second hole, the par-3 17th, when he hit his tee shot to within five feet of the pin and Leonard and DiMarco pushed their tee shots right and left themselves long second shots.

Singh, though, pulled his birdie putt, and Leonard and DiMarco each scrambled to make par.

So, it was on to the par-4 18th, named "Dyeabolical" after course designer Pete Dye. At 500 yards, the 18th played into the wind most of the day and ended up the second-toughest scoring hole on the day, yielding only six birdies.

Needing to make up a stroke to extend the playoff, Leonard and DiMarco hit terrific drives onto the fairway.

Singh, figuring par would win, played it short and safe and ended up 243 yards from the pin -- not exactly what he wanted, but good enough.

"I just said, `Play it right, don't be a hero and get it on the green some way,'" Singh recounted. "`Try to make a two-putt, and maybe a three-putt would probably win it too.'"

From there, Singh hit a perfect 5-wood to the center of the green.

Leonard barely cleared the bank with his second shot, and DiMarco flew his long and left, into a bunker.

Needing a two-putt to win, Singh finally coaxed a quality roll out of his otherwise shaky putter. From 30 feet, he nestled the ball to within a few inches and tapped in for the win.

A lot of players left Whistling Straits kicking themselves, beginning with Leonard.

He began the day one shot behind Singh but seized control on the front nine after Singh made double bogey on the par-4 fourth hole.

A hole earlier, on the par-3 third, Leonard had tied Singh at 12-under when he rolled in a birdie putt.

After Singh bogeyed the fourth and Leonard made a nice par save, Leonard had a two-shot lead.

Leonard then did his best to keep the contenders at bay as various golfers bobbled up and down the leader board.

At one point, DiMarco crept up to tie Leonard for the lead at 10-under, but Leonard appeared to have the tournament in hand on the par-4 15th.

Leonard stood over a short birdie putt that could have given him a three-shot lead over four players -- but he pulled it left.

Still, he was up two strokes with three holes to play.

But Leonard bogeyed the 16th and 18th holes to throw the afternoon into chaos.

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