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Vijay first rival to pose threat to Woods

10/27/2003

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Vijay Singh is unlike any other
player who has come and gone through the revolving door of rivals
for Tiger Woods.

None of the others threatened to take something away from Woods,
such as an unprecedented fifth straight money title or perhaps even
the PGA Tour Player of the Year.

No one else has won more tournaments with Woods in the field --
seven with Singh's victory Sunday in the Funai Classic at Disney.

And remember, it was Singh who kept Woods from a calendar Grand
Slam in 2000 by winning The Masters for his second major
championship.

That was about the time the seeds of this rivalry were planted.

Later that year, Singh's former caddie wrote ''Tiger Who?'' on
the back of his cap before their singles match in the Presidents
Cup. Woods didn't concede a putt longer than 18 inches and beat
Singh, 2 and 1.

The rivalry reached its fruition Monday when Singh rose to No. 2
in the World Ranking, his highest position ever.

''I'm playing the best that I can play right now,'' Singh said.
''It's a good feeling to go out there knowing that you've got a
chance of winning the golf tournament every time you tee it up.
That's the way I feel.''

Just like Woods' other rivalries -- Ernie Els, David Duval, Phil Mickelson -- it starts with performance.

Singh has finished out of the top 10 only once in his last 10
tournaments, and his career-best four victories are only one fewer
than Woods this year.

At just over $6.8 million, he leads the money list by $250,094
over Woods, although Singh already has played eight more
tournaments than Woods and will add another this week in the
Chrysler Championship in Tampa, where a victory would clinch the
money title.

Even more impressive is his head-to-head battles with Woods.

Neither of them won a major championship this year, although
Singh finished higher than Woods in The Masters, British Open and
PGA Championship. They tied for 20th at the U.S. Open.

In the 14 tournaments they played together, each has finished
ahead of the other six times, with two ties.

The difference is Woods has three victories to Singh's one, and
Woods traditionally plays against stronger fields on tougher
courses, which is why he has virtually locked up another Vardon
Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average.

The dynamic that Singh brings to this rivalry is a general
dislike between the two players.

Woods and Duval became so close that they traveled to Argentina
and Japan to play in the World Cup.

Els and Woods also are good friends, although the Big Easy gets
along with everybody. The Woods-Mickelson relationship is
overblown; Woods just likes to poke fun at Lefty, and he's
certainly not the only player who does that.

There have never been warm feelings between Woods and Singh.

Singh's former caddie, Paul Tesori, was responsible for writing
''Tiger Who?'' on his cap at the Presidents Cup, and Singh endorsed
it by saying nothing.

When Woods and Singh went head-to-head in the final group at the
American Express Championship earlier this month, where Woods won
by two shots, their conversation could have fit on an index card.

''Good luck today.''

''I'm playing a Titleist 2.''

''Could you move your coin one to the right?''

''Nice playing with you.''

''Here's your card.''

While they never saw each other at Disney -- the closest they got
was four shots on the leaderboard -- there were a few subtle shots
fired across the bow.

Singh has said for the last month that the money title is the
most important award.

''It's hard to win a money title,'' he said. ''It's harder than
winning golf tournaments because you have to play consistently all
year to win that.''

Woods said he takes more pride in the Vardon Trophy for scoring
than the money title because it's a better barometer of
consistency.

''The money title can be a little skewed if you've played 30
tournaments,'' he said.

Woods is not playing in the $4.8 Chrysler Championship this
week, nor was he tempted to add it to his already thin schedule for
the sake of trying to win the money title.

Even when told that Singh could have ended Woods' four-year
reign before the Tour Championship, Woods shrugged.

''If he has it wrapped up, so be it,'' Woods said. ''Anyone
would much rather have Player of the Year than the money title. He
plays a lot more than I do. If it were important, I'd play 25 to 30
events every year.''

The rivalry will continue to play itself out over the next two
weeks.

How long it lasts after that is anyone's guess.

Singh is 40, although he is so strong and in such good shape
that it wouldn't surprise anyone if he continued to play at this
level for several more years.

The big Fijian even set his sights on being No. 1 in the world.

''I give myself another five years,'' Singh said. ''It's going
to be really hard to get Tiger from the No. 1 spot. He's playing so
well every week. I just have to match that and play better than
that in the next few years.

''We'll have to wait and see.''