Singh closes with 63 to break away from pack
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Vijay Singh thought a good final round would win the Phoenix Open. As it turned out, it took a great one.
Singh birdied five of the first six holes and shot an 8-under-par 63 Sunday to win the event for the second time.
He finished at 23-under 261, three strokes ahead of John Huston.
Singh won this event in 1995, but that was in a playoff.
This time, he tied the tournament record for lowest final-round score, had the best finish by a PGA Tour winner since Jonathan Byrd's 63 at the 2002 Buick Challenge and strolled up to the 18th green knowing he had won.
''It was a dream start for me,'' Singh said. ''You know, I birdied 1 and 2 and then birdied 4, 5, 6. You do something like that when you're just one or two back to start, and you're definitely going to have good momentum.''
The Fiji native had eight one-putt greens on the front side while shooting a 29, which would have tied the nine-hole record except for Chris DiMarco's 7-under 28 in the third round.
''When you're making putts and hitting it close, you can have a good score,'' Singh said. ''That's what I did on the front side. I think that's what won the golf tournament.''
This was the 12th tour victory for Singh, the 2000 Masters champion. He also has 21 international wins.
It also was the tour's fifth straight win by an international player. Luke Donald and Singh started the string on the same weekend last season at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic and the Tour Championship. Ernie Els had two wins in Hawaii this year.
Singh won $720,000, boosting him from eighth to second on the money list with $990,929.
''I drove the ball very well today and made a lot of birdies,'' said Mickelson, the 1996 champion and the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 3. ''Although it wasn't enough to seriously challenge any of the leaders, I was very pleased with the way I started to progress.''
DiMarco went 15 under for the tournament -- only two shots worse than his winning 267 in 2002 -- but was eight shots behind in his title defense.
Singh had an excellent approach game. He made a birdie on No. 9 and reached 22 under on 11, where his seventh birdie of the day required a 12-foot, uphill putt.
But on the next hole, a difficult par-3 with water on three sides, Singh found the back bunker and two-putted from 15 feet.
He two-putted the next four holes for two pars and two birdies, giving himself eagle chances on 13 and 15 with solid approach shots.
Singh was long off the tee all day. He had a 340-yard drive on the 13th and sent his tee shot on the 332-yard 17th to the right of the green, pin high.
Huston maintained the pressure but blew an early chance to close the gap when he bogeyed 12, keeping him three strokes off the lead.
''I knew he had shot really well the first 11 holes or whatever,'' Huston said. ''But still, you can make up some ground out here the last few holes -- or you could lose some ground. You've just got to stay patient and do your own thing.''
The issue was settled on the next-to-last hole when Huston and Frazar tried to drive the green. Both overswung and hooked their tee shots, which bounced into a lake that guards the top of the green and curls around below it on the left side.
Each bogeyed the hole, leaving both too far behind after Singh reached the 18th green in regulation.
''I think that's when I felt safe,'' Singh said. ''When I drove off 18 and knew Huston had made bogey on 17. I can handle a three-shot lead. I was quite happy with that.''
The prize money pushed Singh over the $19 million mark (fourth) on the career money list in a decade on the PGA Tour. ... Singh has come from behind five times to win. ... The final-round scoring average of 69.347 was the second lowest at the TPC of Scottsdale. But the round was the first in which a low cumulative record was not set. ... Mickelson was the only player making his 2003 debut to finish in the top 10.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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