Golf season really gears up
After a post-Masters pause for intermission, the golf season has - like Vijay Singh's golf game - returned to form. Singh's second win this season re-entered him into the early Player of the Year race that right now is being led by Phil Mickelson, who returns to action Thursday in New Orleans. Where's Tiger Woods? Preparing for a cameo next week in Charlotte. With apologies to Ernie Els, we'll call them "The Big Three," and we all know who's No. 3 right now in terms of buzz, recent play and good karma.
"The last few times I did go into the lead, I've been striking the ball well," Singh said. "When you do that, you don't feel threatened that someone is going to overtake you. You just let your game do the talking."
Here's what talked Monday at Redstone GC: Fairways hit (13 of 14), Greens in Regulation (16 of 18), Driving Distance (318.2 yards). It was the type of golf we were used to seeing out of Singh all last year and through Pebble Beach in February. That convincing victory on the Monterey Peninsula was also his 12th straight top-10.
Then, Singh decompressed and became human. He missed a cut at San Diego in Tiger's first tournament since the Mercedes. He didn't factor again until The Players, and there in his backyard he shot two-over on the weekend to finish T-13. At Augusta he opened 75-73, but closed with two 69s for a T-6. In Houston he kept improving every day, getting stronger through all the rain delays and ultimately the Monday marathon, where he was Vijay The Machine.
Is he the best player in golf? The only argument against it is that Singh has never prevailed in a showdown with Woods, Mickelson or Els.
Other than Pebble there's been a B movie quality to his last six victories. A win may be a win on the PGA Tour, but there's a difference between Houston and Augusta. So no, he's not No. 1, if only out of respect for the man who's done it better, for longer.
The gap in the World Ranking is 2.58, the smallest margin since the system was tweaked 20 months ago. Last October, Singh said it could take him five months to catch Woods. Now 41, he is thinking sooner. "If I keep playing like I did this weekend," he said, "I have a very good chance."
Some consider putting the most important stat on the line score, but Singh makes an argument for total driving. It's the one area where he clearly has separated himself from Woods, who ranks 24th on tour in that category, but 119th in hitting fairways. At Redstone, Singh led the field in driving distance and was third in driving accuracy, prompting the always blunt Scott Hoch to note, "He's long, and when long hitters are in sync it's going to be tough to beat them."
So while Tiger says he's close, Vijay is synched up and putting on exhibitions. "After watching him, I need to approach driving the ball differently," playing partner Paul Azinger said. "It seemed to me all he tried to do was make the same swing on every drive. I kept trying to adjust to the wind and the conditions. He kept making the same swing."
"I don't feel any different as a player," Lefty said Wednesday at the HP Classic of New Orleans. "I don't feel any different as a human being."
Last year Woods was criticized for not having enough reps before the Open at Olympia Fields. Adding Charlotte isn't so much an answer to that as it is an opportunity to play a traditional Open-style golf course in Quail Hollow, which debuted last year to phenomenal reviews and with a winning score of 10-under 278. The premium will be on driving, so it will be a good test for Woods before the Byron Nelson, where Vijay's 15-under won last year.
Hoch's runner-up finish put a spotlight on his amazing ability to factor while battling age, injuries and a 15-yard gap in driving distance. The PIN number is still working for Hoch at the ATM. He now has 161 top-10s in his career, which includes 17 second-place finishes. The last time the Open came to Long Island, Hoch finished a solid T-5 on another course that was supposedly too long for him, Bethpage Black.
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine
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