Woods, Singh in major battle to determine player of year

Two top-ranked players meet this week for PGA


August 07, 2005|By Randall Mell | Randall Mell,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

The two top-ranked players in the world arrive at Baltusrol for this week's PGA Championship appearing to be near peak form.

No. 1 Tiger Woods claimed the British Open last month, and if not for a balky putter that led to his second-place finish at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in June, he would be aiming to close out a Grand Slam sweep.

No. 2 Singh won the Buick Open at Grand Blanc, Mich., in his previous outing last week. He stared down Woods head-to-head in the final pairing Saturday, refusing to blink posting a 63 to Woods' 70 and cruising to victory despite a bold late Sunday run by Woods.

If Singh can defend his PGA Championship title, the season won't feel like it's winding to a conclusion.

It will feel as if the race for the PGA Tour Player of the Year is just beginning.

"Tiger is definitely the front-runner right now," Singh concedes.

Golf fans know how formidable Woods is with a lead.

And they know how ferociously Singh can close.

They've each won four PGA Tour events this year, but Woods still leads the pace because two of his victories are majors and Singh's looking for his first of the season.

Still, this is when Singh made his move a year ago, winning six of his final nine events. With nine victories overall in 2004, he broke Woods' record five-year hold on the player of the year award.

"You probably have to win another five or six more to get player of the year, like last year," Singh said.

Woods and Singh are first and second in the money title race and Vardon Trophy standings (for low scoring average). Woods has earned $7 million to Singh's $6.8 million with Woods boasting a 68.82 scoring average to Singh's 69.14.

With Woods already assured nobody can win more majors this season, Singh needs another special finish.

"I'm doing better in the majors now, and that's where you want to perform," Woods said of the much publicized swing changes that helped him end his streak of 10 majors without a win. "To have the confidence going into each and every major feeling if I just play my game, I'll be in contention, that's exciting to be in that kind of feeling, that kind of mode."

Woods won three majors in 2000, joining Ben Hogan (1953) as the only men to win as many in a single season in the modern era. A victory this week would be Woods' 11th in professional majors, equaling Walter Hagen at No. 2 on the list behind Jack Nicklaus' record 18.

This will mark Woods' last major before he turns 30 (Dec. 30).

Nicklaus didn't win his eighth major until he was 30.

"The golden years of a golfer are usually their 30s," Woods said after his British Open victory at St. Andrews. "Hopefully they'll be my 40s, too.

"But I've said for a long time that it will take an entire career to do something like [Nicklaus' record]. But what makes it exciting is the opportunity to get better every day."

Baltusrol, located in Springfield, N.J., has been home to seven U.S. Opens. This will mark the first time it has hosted the PGA Championship.

The site should bring good vibes to Woods, because it was so kind to Nicklaus, who won two of his four U.S. Opens at Baltusrol (1967, 1980).

Woods seems to relish the same venues that Nicklaus did. Woods excels at Augusta National and St. Andrews, as did Nicklaus. Woods has won The Memorial at Muirfield Village three times. Nicklaus designed the course.

Woods played Baltusrol in a one-day trip last week with instructor Hank Haney in tow.

"The rough is very, very difficult," Haney told The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.

"It won't be a problem for Tiger, but it will be for a lot of players."

In the 14 events that Woods and Singh have played together this year, Woods has won four to Singh's two. They're likely to tee it up in the same event at least five more times after Baltusrol.

"I don't get intimidated very much," Singh told reporters at a clinic for 84 Lumber Classic customers in Pennsylvania last week. "I don't get intimidated at all, nowadays."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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