Vijay first rival to pose threat to Woods

Updated: October 27, 2003, 5:23 PM ET
By Doug Ferguson | Associated Press

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.

"
It's hard to win a money title. It's harder than winning golf tournaments because you have to play consistently all year to win that.
"
-- Vijay Singh

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.''


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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