'Forced rest' paying off for Singh at Bay Hill

3/14/2008 - Golf Vijay Singh

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The driving range got a rest last week. The inches-long trenches typically dug by Vijay Singh on the practice tee at the TPC Sawgrass were nowhere to be found, giving the grass some time to grow.

Turns out the hardest-working man in golf stayed home, unable to swing his clubs due to an illness contracted when he was India to play in the Johnnie Walker Classic. For four long days, Singh was confined to his bathroom, finally feeling decent enough to hit balls into a net last Friday.

A week later, Singh is leading the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

"It was almost a forced rest," Singh said after shooting 5-under-par 65 at the Bay Hill Club. "I thought I was going to pull out of this tournament."

Singh said he could not remember the last time he went that many days in a row without hitting a golf ball, but the illness got the best of him. He went to a hospital near his Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., home where he was given intravenous fluids and said his weight dropped 18 pounds, to just under 200.

Feeling lousy was bad enough, but the effect on his golf game could not have been too comforting, either. Singh has been in the midst of swing changes since last fall, an effort to get his swing more upright. Singh, as is his custom, worked tirelessly in the offseason, had a near miss at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am where he lost in a playoff, and now has an important stretch of tournaments ahead.

The last thing he wanted to do was nothing.

"Some guys say it's good you take four days off from not playing, but I just could not do anything," he said. "My physiotherapist said, 'Forced rest is always good. When you've had forced rest before, you've played well.' So hopefully he's right about that."

Singh is getting a bit antsy. He makes no concessions to age at 45, but he has slipped from the No. 1 ranking in parts of 2004 and 2005 to 11th. Although he was third on the PGA Tour money list last year, Singh was disappointed that he rarely contended after his victory here.

In fact, this stretch of a year without a win is his longest since he went nearly two years after winning the 2000 Masters.

"I hit the ball really good off the tee, I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities," he said of his round on Friday. "And also was helped by chipping in twice [once for an eagle]. I'm playing solid, not doing anything special. Not doing anything too much wrong, either, just cruising along."

With 31 PGA Tour victories, Singh is already a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and will surpass Lighthorse Harry Cooper as the most prolific international winner in PGA Tour history with his next win. His next victory will also give him 20 after the age of 40, already a record, and it ought to really put his career into perspective: that alone would match him with Greg Norman's entire PGA Tour total.

But never one to be satisfied, Singh examined his game and realized his swing was causing him trouble. He went to work on fixing it, but also decided he needed to better fight advancing age. He replaced his close friend and trainer Joe Diovisalvi with Jeffrey Fronk, who used to work with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets.

When Singh is at home -- and healthy -- he typically does two 90-minute workout sessions a day. And he doesn't slack off much on the road, going through a 45-minute workout in the mornings and an hour-long one after the round. And this isn't routine stuff, like a treadmill or exercise bike. Singh works with weights, medicine balls, jump ropes, a physio ball.

"It is a lot more faster workout, a lot more dynamic training and it is just doing me a lot of good," he said.

Singh has also put more effort into his putting and has gone back to a conventional putter, using a left-hand low grip -- which he used to win the 2000 Masters and the 2004 PGA Championship.

It appears there are only a few mental hurdles left, such as getting over his playoff loss to Steve Lowery last month at Pebble Beach. Singh appeared to have victory wrapped up when he went to the final nine holes, but four bogeys allowed Lowery to catch him. Singh then lost on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

"It was a good learning thing," he said. "I threw away the tournament, and you think back about what you've done. You've never won a tournament until you've made the last putt, and I think I got a little ahead of myself. You pay the penalty and you learn from it. I would have loved to have won, but I think I learned a lot more from that."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.