Singh loves second chances

Originally Published: August 18, 2004
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

It is only fitting that Vijay Singh stood on the 72nd hole Sunday afternoon at the PGA Championship, helpless. If Justin Leonard's 12-foot par putt drops, he is the winner and Singh walks away disappointed. But Leonard's putt stayed out, and Singh stayed alive.

Then he took advantage of his second chance, which is the story of Singh's career.

Who would have ever heard of the man if he had not emerged from the depths of despair in a Borneo jungle to become one of the game's truly great success stories?

Singh heads into this week's NEC Invitational as the story of the year in golf. He has won five times on the PGA Tour, including a major. He leads the PGA Tour money list. And if the season ended today, he would be Player of the Year.

Where they're playing

This week:
NEC Invitational
Site:
Akron, Ohio
Course:
Firestone Country Club, South Course (7,230 yards, par 70). Purse:
$7 million (Winner: $1.2 million)
Television:
Thursday: 3-7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Friday: 3-7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Saturday: 2-6 p.m. ET (CBS)
Sunday: 2:30-6:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Defending champ:
Darren Clarke


This week:
Reno-Tahoe Open
Site:
Reno, Nev.
Course:
Montreux Golf and Country Club (7,577 yards, par 72). Purse:
$3 million (Winner: $540,000)
Television:
Thursday: 8-10:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Friday: 8-10:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 8-10:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 8-10:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Kirk Triplett


This week:
Wendy's Championship
Site:
Dublin, Ohio
Course:
Tartan Fields Golf Club (6,517 yards, par 72). Purse:
$1.1 million (Winner: $165,000)
Television:
Thursday: 12-2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Friday: 12-2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Saturday: 2-4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Sunday: 5-7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Defending champ:
Hee-Won Han


This week:
Greater Hickory Classic
Site:
Conover, N.C.
Course:
Rock Barn Golf & Spa, Jones Course (7,023 yards, par 72). Purse:
$1.6 million (Winner: $240,000)
Television:
Friday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 1:30-4 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Craig Stadler


This week:
No event scheduled
(NEC Invitational counts as European Tour event)


This week:
Alberta Classic
Site:
Calgary, Alberta
Course:
Redwood Meadows Golf and Country Club (7,058 yards, par 72).
Purse:
$450,000 (Winner: $81,000)
Television:
Thursday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Friday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Saturday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Sunday: 5-7:30 p.m. ET (TGC)
Defending champ:
Tom Carter

All of this for a 41-year-old golfer from Fiji who prides himself on his later-in-life dedication to fitness, who junked a successful putting method during a successful season and who has put aside numerous off-course distractions to come within a breath of golf's No. 1 ranking in the world.

"I could play another 18 holes. I feel great," Singh said after his playoff victory Sunday over Leonard and Chris DiMarco. "I feel that I'm in the best shape physically I've ever been in and I'm not stopping here."

Why should he? Singh hits the ball a mile, and save for Sunday's pitiful putting performance, has improved greatly on the greens. That has always been the aspect of the game to hold him back, but just a few weeks ago, Singh switched from the controversial belly putter back to the conventional method.

And he's won two tournaments in a row.

"I think this is the biggest accomplishment I've ever had in my whole career," Singh said. "This makes my year right here. I played well at the Masters and did not win. I played well the first two days at the U.S. Open, played well at the British. But this is it. I wanted to win one again, a major again, and it came at the right time."

Singh has not been the easiest player to embrace. He has gone about chasing greatness in solitude, avoiding autograph seekers. There was the "kiss my a--" remark after winning the Masters and the fallout from his comments about Annika Sorenstam last year when she played at the Colonial.

Through it all, he just kept hitting balls and chasing titles. Singh now has five victories this year and 20 PGA Tour titles. Among active players, only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have more. His three major titles matches Ernie Els and Nick Price for third place among active players, trailing just Woods (eight) and Nick Faldo (six).

About the only thing Singh has not done is win a World Golf Championship event.

He could do that this week. And what a way it would be to take over No. 1.

Five Things To Bank On

1.
Although Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, is a venerable test, it will seem like a walk in the park to those who competed in last week's PGA Championship.

2.
Tiger Woods won't give up his No. 1 ranking without a fight. He won the NEC Invitational three straight times starting in 1999 and has never finished out of the top five.

3.
Although this tournament typically becomes a post-major money grab, there is plenty at stake, especially for European players in the field. Paul McGinley and Colin Montgomerie can make an impression on European captain Bernhard Langer, whose team won't be finalized until Aug. 29.

4.
Ernie Els has a lot of pride, but don't be surprised to see him have a poor week at the NEC. There has to be a major hangover after another agonizing close-call at a major.

5.
Eduardo Romero will clean up on the Champions Tour. Romero, 50, makes his first start in a U.S. tournament on the Champions Tour at the Greater Hickory Classic. Romero, who finished second last month at the Senior British Open, is still competitive with the younger players. The eight-time European Tour winner from Argentina is still ranked 94th in the world.


QUICK TAKE
Michelle Wie
Wie
Michelle Wie is quite impressive when she puts her game on display against professionals. She nearly made the cut at the PGA Tour's Sony Open and had two high finishes at LPGA Tour major championships.

But her defeat at the U.S. Women's Amateur in the second round last week is an example of why she needs to play more against people her own age.

Wie led In-Bee Park 2-up with three holes to play during the second round of the match play competition and ended up losing the last three holes to blow the match. That included a three-putt green at the final hole.

Wie is too good to lose tournaments that way, but really, how often has she been under such pressure? When Wie plays in LPGA Tour events, nobody expects her to win, nobody expects her to finish in the top-10. She isn't playing for money, so the excruciating nature of giving shots away does not hurt quite so bad.

In matches where she is supposed to win, however, there is pressure. And Wie needs to feel it and embrace and defeat it. That will only help her down the road, when she has learned how to win -- no matter the level -- and dealt with the feelings that come with such pressure.

MAILBAG: ASK BOB HARIG
Bob HarigGot a question about the PGA Tour? Ask ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig, who will answer your inquiries in each installment of This Week in Golf.

Q. As a recent follower of the PGA tour, I have noticed that players are sometimes fined for public criticism of a course or the tour. How is this legal under the First Amendment?
Bear
Gibsonville, N.C.

A. Yes, legally, a person has a right to say what he wants. But that doesn't mean an employer has to take it. If you say bad things about your boss, he can still fire you, if it is your right to say it. PGA Tour players are independent contractors, but they do have rules to follow. And the tour does assess fines for various things they believe make the tour look bad.

Q. I am curious about the career of David Duval. What has happened to this once so bright golfer? I know he tried to make the cut at the U.S. Open, but was embarrassed. Is he only going to be playing in majors where it seems he has no shot at all of winning again? What has happened to his career?
Torey

A. Duval's problems have been much-discussed. There were injuries and personal issues to contend with. Then bad habits developed in his golf swing. And there was some question about his desire to be on top after winning the British Open in 2001. Duval has played in just three tournaments, missing the cut in all three. At the PGA, it was apparent that he is quite rusty. He needs time to work it out. Whether he can return to top form is a big question mark.

Q. It seems to me that Tiger started to struggle when he started dating seriously. Do you think his mind is somewhere else and this is contributing to his struggles?
Eric Enerson
Minneapolis, Minn.

A. Woods' engagement to Elin Nordegren has been the subject of much conjecture, but the truth is, he was dating her in 2002 when he won the Masters and U.S. Open. Woods might have changing priorities, but that doesn't mean his game is neglected. In fact, such outside interests could help him find a proper balance and prevent burnout in the future. Woods is simply having trouble maintaining an incredible level that nobody ever thought possible to start out.


Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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