Singh's time has come: He, not Woods, is No. 1

Fijian captures Deutsche Bank by 3, supplants Tiger after record 264 weeks

Golf

September 07, 2004|By Bruce Berlet | Bruce Berlet,HARTFORD COURANT

NORTON, Mass. - Vijay Singh spent 2003 and the start of '04 focused on trying to supplant Tiger Woods as No. 1.

But Singh's goal became an obsession that soon interfered with his play. He was more concerned with overtaking his archrival than concentrating on what had made him golf's hottest player.

Enter Plan B. Forget about No. 1. Just keep spending countless hours on the practice range and putting green and win tournaments.

Plan B has worked almost to perfection - with a little help from a change in his weakest link.

Yesterday, Singh made it 5-for-5 this year when leading after three rounds (9-for-9 since the 2002 Houston Open 17 months ago) and completed his rise to the top of the world rankings with a three-stroke victory over Woods and defending champion Adam Scott in the Deutsche Bank Championship at the TPC of Boston.

In a head-to-head duel with the man who was No. 1 for a record 264 consecutive weeks, Singh birdied three of the last four holes for a 2-under-par 69 and 72-hole total of 16-under 268.

It was Singh's 10th victory in two years, fifth in 14 tournaments and third in four starts since he returned to a conventional putter at the Buick Open five weeks ago. For 2 1/2 years, he had used a belly putter.

Singh is a lock to end Woods' record five-year run as PGA Tour Player of the Year, but dethroning him at the tournament where Woods is the pseudo host was most on everyone's mind.

Woods' reign officially ended at 5:44 p.m., and he shook hands with Singh, gave him a light tap on the butt, then walked off the green as Singh punched the air and tipped his cap to a crowd that had rooted mostly for his adversary. Though Singh tried to downplay the significance of a native of Fiji becoming No. 1 in the world, he couldn't hide all his inner thoughts.

"I've worked pretty hard for this and finally achieved what I wanted to do starting at the beginning of [last] year," Singh said. "It was a good win, too, because it got pretty tight coming down the stretch, but I got focused and played pretty good.

"It was a golf tournament to me, not about the rankings. It wasn't about trying to beat Tiger and beat the No. 1 player. I was trying to win, and Adam Scott nearly jumped up and took it away. It feels great, but I thought I was playing good enough to be No. 1 for a while, but I kept saying there was nothing I could do about the rankings. Finally, it's turned in my favor, and I'm really proud to achieve that."

Woods showed little emotion after losing his grip on No. 1 for the first time since winning the 1999 PGA Championship.

"There's two ways to look at it," Woods said, trying to force a smile. "This is the best ball-striking week I've had all year, and unfortunately I didn't win because I didn't play the par-5s well all day [bogeys at Nos. 2 and 7, birdie at No. 18]. There's no doubt I played more like a No. 1 than I have in a while, but I just didn't take care of the par-5s."

What about not being No. 1?

"I'm not disappointed about the ranking," Woods said. "I'm disappointed in not winning. As I've said, winning takes care of the ranking. I had a great opportunity to win, got even with five holes to go and just didn't do it."

Woods' only victory this year is in the Accenture Match Play Championship, and his last stroke-play win came in the American Express Championship 11 months ago.

Singh opened a four-shot lead over Woods and eight-shot advantage on Scott with a 5-foot birdie putt at No. 1. Singh and Woods then bogeyed the par-5 second after hitting second shots in a hazard. Woods injured his right wrist and damaged his sand wedge trying to play his third shot from rocks. He gave his car keys to tour official Jon Brendl, who got a replacement from Woods' trunk.

Singh and Woods traded bogeys at Nos. 6 and 7, then Woods got within two strokes when he made birdie putts of 7 and 11 feet on Nos. 8 and 9. Scott, still eight back after five holes, leaped into contention with birdie putts of 16, 20, 12 and 8 feet at Nos. 10-13 to get to 12-under. He narrowly missed makeable birdie putts on the next four holes before a chip to 5 feet set up his seventh birdie at No. 18.

"I played a beautiful back nine and was a little shocked when a few [putts] didn't go in," Scott said. "But I'm very happy with how it all went."

Woods holed a 64-foot pitch from the rough at No. 12 with his replacement sand wedge and got a share of the lead when Singh missed an 11-foot par putt at No. 13. But Singh reclaimed the lead for good at No. 14, making an 8-foot par putt before Woods missed from a similar distance.

"That really pumped me up," Singh said.

Singh closed with a flourish, hitting a pitching wedge to 4 feet at No. 15, holing a 23-foot putt at No. 17 and two-putting the par-5 18th.

"I never thought I'd be sitting here, the best player in the world," Singh said, reflecting on his early days in the South Pacific. "Obviously it's been a journey and something that cannot be forgotten."

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Most consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking:

Tiger Woods

Aug. 15, 1999 to present

264

Greg Norman

June 18, 1995 to April 13, 1997

96

Nick Faldo

July 19, 1992 to Jan. 30, 1994

81

Greg Norman

Sept. 14, 1986 to Nov. 15, 1987

62

Greg Norman

Aug. 20, 1989 to Aug. 26, 1990

54

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