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On third try, Singh gets job done

10/30/2003

ATLANTA -- Annoyed by his two previous failures at East
Lake, Vijay Singh left nothing to chance Sunday in the Tour
Championship.

After working overtime on a swing he could trust, and rehearsing
a 3-iron shot to the 18th in case it came down to the final hole,
Singh finally got his revenge on East Lake by closing with a
3-under 67 to win the final PGA Tour event of the year.

''The last two times I came over here, I thought I was going to
win it,'' Singh said after a two-stroke victory over Charles Howell
III. ''I've finally done it, and it's really something I'm going to
cherish.''

It was the third consecutive Tour Championship at East Lake that
Singh held at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

He lost in a playoff to Hal Sutton in 1998 after making bogey on
the 72nd hole.

Two years ago, he was tied with Tiger Woods and closed with a 73
as both were defeated by Phil Mickelson.

Singh finally figured out how to close the deal. He struck the
ball beautifully all day, kept out of trouble and dared everyone
else to catch him.

They certainly tried.

''Every time I hit a good shot, he was right there to answer,''
Howell said after closing with a 66 in his Tour Championship debut.

First it was Jerry Kelly, who made an ace on No. 11 to trim the
lead to one stroke. Singh responded with three consecutive birdies
starting on the par-5 ninth.

Then came Howell, who holed a wedge from the 13th fairway for an
eagle and birdied the 17th to cut the margin to two shots.

That was a small enough margin for Singh to remember his first
failure at East Lake -- a bogey on the par-3 18th that allowed Sutton to get into a playoff and beat him.

''I had the same club in my hand,'' Singh said. ''I was
practicing that this morning. I said if it comes down to 18, I need
to hit a solid 3-iron. And that was the best one I hit. When I
struck the ball, I didn't have to look to know it was going
straight for the green.''

A two-putt par gave him a 12-under 268 and a check for $900,000.

David Toms had a 67 to finish third. The former PGA champion
failed to win a tournament for the first time since 1998, although
he still finished fourth on the money list.

Tiger Woods was never a factor after taking a double-bogey on
the opening hole. Woods grimaced on his approach to the par-5 15th,
and later attributed that to a sore knee that has bothered him all
year.

''You just have to play through it,'' Woods said.

Woods hit only four fairways, hanging his head as each drive
sailed into the trees. He wound up with a 70 and a tie for seventh,
the first time he has finished out of the top five since the
British Open in July.

Singh was never worried about Woods or anyone else.

''The key was my golf,'' he said. ''I focused on hitting the
fairways, which I did. If you hit the fairways, the hole becomes so
much easier.''

Unlike the previous two Tour Championships at East Lake, Singh
had a little more breathing room -- a three-stroke lead over Howell,
and an easy day for scoring with hardly any wind and overcast
conditions.

Only nothing came easily for Singh at the start of the final
round.

He made bogey from the bunker on the opening hole and had to
settle for pars over the next seven holes, which slowly allowed a
group of other players to sneak into contention.

Davis Love III made six birdies over a span of eight holes to
close to two strokes of the lead until he missed the 13th green
and faded. Love had a 65 and tied for fifth at 275 with Mickelson
(69).

Toms closed to two shots of Singh with a short birdie putt on
No. 9, then added another birdie on No. 12. He was never a factor
after that, finishing with all pars.

The real scare came from Kelly, whose ace on No. 11 was only the
fourth in the 16-year history of the Tour Championship Presented by Coca-Cola, and the
first since Steve Lowery and Greg Norman in 1994 at The Olympic
Club.

His 4-iron from 205 yards landed about 25 feet short of the hole
and broke about 4 feet before curling in the back edge. That put
Kelly only one stroke out of the lead, and the cheer must have
awoken Singh from his slumber.

After missing three birdie chances inside 8 feet, the Fijian
holed a birdie putt from seven feet on No. 9, then poured it on. He
made a 12-footer on No. 10, then his tee shot on the par-3 11th
came about 16 inches from matching Kelly's ace.

He settled for a tap-in birdie, a four-shot lead and was on his
way.

Howell tried to make it interesting by holing out with a wedge
from 13th fairway, the ball flying straight into the hole for an
eagle that closed him to three shots.

All he needed was a few mistakes from Singh, who made none on a
day when he could finally leave East Lake with a big check and a
crystal trophy.