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Streaking Singh stalking Tiger

Posted: Monday, February 09, 2004

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. Vijay Singh stood on the 18th green with the crystal in his hands, a trophy he has wanted to hold ever since he first set foot on Pebble Beach.

It might not be long before he has the prize he really wants replacing Tiger Woods at No. 1 in the world.

Singh blew away the field Sunday in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, making birdies on the first three holes, hitting a spectacular 4-iron into the most daunting green on the course and spending the rest of the day soaking up the sunshine on the Monterey Peninsula.

It was his third victory in his last nine PGA Tour events, and his 12th consecutive finish in the top 10, the best record of anyone over the last six months.

Does it make him the best player?

''My ranking doesn't say that,'' Singh said. ''I'm No. 2. I'm playing the best I can. I want to be No. 1 before I finish. But it's a hard feat to take Tiger off the top because he's playing well.

''If I keep playing like I'm doing now, I have a shot maybe not this year, but in a year or two.''

At this rate, it might be sooner than he thinks.

Singh closed with a 3-under 69, avoiding a near-disaster on the par-3 17th when he nearly blasted over the green and into the ocean while trying to win the Pro-Am portion of the tournament with investment tycoon Teddy Forstmann.

Despite bumpy greens that kept Woods away, Singh managed to make 25 birdies for the week. He hit the flag twice in the final round, and would have done it a third time, except his chip on No. 10 was so true it dropped in the cup.

Singh finished at 16-under 262, three shots ahead of Jeff Maggert.

Maggert overcame a four-putt for double bogey on No. 16 with birdies on his last two holes for a 69.

Phil Mickelson also had a 69 and finished third, his third top-10 in as many starts this year.

That's nothing compared with Singh, who ran his streak to 12 consecutive finishes in the top 10 dating to the NEC Invitational in August. He is two away from the modern-day record set by Jack Nicklaus in 1977.

''It kind of reminds me of the streak Tiger was on a few years ago when he won the four majors in a row,'' Maggert said. ''It was like all he had to do was show up and he was going to shoot 5 or 6 under. That kind of reminds me of the way Vijay is playing.''

Singh, who earned $954,000 for his 16th career victory, is firmly entrenched at No. 2 in the world ranking.

But the gap keeps shrinking.

Singh ended Woods' four-year reign of the PGA Tour money title last year, and has shown no signs of letting up.

Scott McCarron might have a good idea.

''I think we're about ready to take up a collection and send him on a paid vacation,'' he said.

Singh on vacation?

Even during a two-week break over the holidays, he walked around the house with a club, honing his swing.

Singh now heads south to Torrey Pines for the Buick Invitational, where Woods is the defending champion.

''I'm going to go out there next week and start all over,'' Singh said. ''It doesn't matter who is playing in the field. If I play my game, everything will be cool.''

Singh started the final round tied with Arron Oberholser, who was playing in the final group in a PGA Tour event for the first time and got an education playing against Singh.

After hooking his opening tee shot into deep rough, Singh hit an approach that hopped off a knob over the bunker, rolled toward the cup and nicked the pin before stopping a few feet away for a tap-in birdie. He hooked his next tee shot, then missed the green by 60 yards, but pitched to 10 feet for another birdie.

And after missing the fairway to the left on No. 3, he hit into 10 feet on the fringe and holed that for birdie.

''The man snap-hooked his first three drives and made birdies,'' Oberholser said. ''It's hard to compete with that.''

The Pebble Beach National Pro-Am has a short history of guys who get off to a great start, but it's usually someone from the middle of the pack Woods from five shots behind in 2000, Davis Love III from seven shots behind a year later.

This time, the big move came from the top and it led to a runaway.

There was a brief moment when it looked as though Singh might be challenged.

The eighth hole has one of the most daunting approach shots in golf, over part of the ocean to a small green that slopes severely to the front. Maggert had a 10-foot birdie putt to get within two shots, with Singh still back in the fairway. The putt caught the right lip, and Singh effectively ended the tournament with another great shot.

His 4-iron stopped 4 feet from the cup for a birdie, and everyone around him started falling back.

Oberholser's approach on No. 8 came up short, down the cliff. He had to take a drop and made double bogey for a three-shot swing that dropped him six shots behind.

Oberholser closed with a 76 and tied for fourth, matching his best finish on tour.



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