Singh claims 'prettiest' major victory

Originally Published: August 15, 2004
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

HAVEN, Wis. -- To fully appreciate what Vijay Singh accomplished Sunday by winning the 86th PGA Championship, you had to watch the whole stinking five hours of it.

Patience and doggedness are wonderful traits in a police detective or a single mother, but they are hardly the stuff of dramatic sports.

Justin Leonard
Getty ImagesLeonard bogeyed three of the final five holes, but it made for great theater.
If all you measure Singh's third major championship by is his final-round 76 at Whistling Straits, you miss the obstinance he deployed in believing he could win when he couldn't have sunk a putt in Lake Michigan. You miss his determination to succeed in spite of himself.

Singh grew up in Fiji, paid his dues as a club pro in Borneo, played in Asia, and didn't reach the PGA Tour until the age of 30. If he knew how to give in, he'd still be selling Titleists in the South Pacific.

"I just hung in there," said Singh. "I never gave up. I just said, 'I'm going to make a putt sooner or later.' I hung in there."

Given new life when Justin Leonard gave up a two-stroke lead on the final three holes, Singh defeated Leonard and Chris DiMarco in a three-hole playoff. After not making a birdie in his final round, Singh strode onto the 10th tee as if he had just heard his medical tests came back negative. He hit a 330-yard drive, knocked his approach to within eight feet away and holed the putt. Once ahead, Singh never gave the others a chance to catch him.

"You have nothing to lose," Singh said. "You know that you can't finish worse than second. Go all out and play for it."

Singh's 76 is, by two strokes, the highest final round score by a champion since the PGA switched from match play to stroke play in 1958. If this victory were a Hollywood actress, it would be Kathy Bates -- Oscar-caliber talent, but hardly a looker. Asked if it were his ugliest victory, Singh laughed.

"It's the prettiest one, I think," he said.

He was one of only two players who failed to make a birdie in the final round. You can argue that he afforded himself the cushion to falter by playing the first three rounds in 12 under. Perhaps so, but again, a closer examination reveals how tough Singh played when he had to.

Among the top five finishers, only Singh parred the final three holes. DiMarco bogeyed the 16th, then left a straight 15-foot birdie putt at the 18th inches short. Leonard bogeyed 16 and 18, the last when his 5-iron approach fell a couple of feet short of the green and onto the grass front of a bunker.

"When I hit the shot, I thought, 'I just ended this golf tournament,'" Leonard said. When the ball landed short, his shoulders slumped, and you couldn't have picked up Leonard's head with a crane.

Leonard said he would think of all the putts he missed coming down the stretch. It could be worse. Ernie Els and Chris Riley each finished one shot out of the playoff by three-putting the final green. Riley received the consolation prize of qualifying for the Ryder Cup, but that five-footer he missed for par may not be soothed.

As for Els, he completed a Normanesque Grand Slam of pain. He lost the Masters when Phil Mickelson birdied the 18th. He shot an 80 in the final pairing on Sunday at the U.S. Open. He lost the British Open in a playoff, and now this.

Singh won his fifth victory in a year in which no one else has more than two. The Player of the Year Award is his. He has 20 PGA Tour victories in a career that is obviously at its peak, which is remarkable considering that Singh will turn 42 in February.

"This makes my year right here," Singh said. 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, one major again, and it came at the right time. I don't have that many years to contend. I don't think so, anyway, probably another five, six years. I'd like to win a few more before I finish."

Surely he will win more tournaments, and in more spectacular fashion. But none will be as pretty in his mind as the very ugly win he takes home from Whistling Straits.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Ivan.Maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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