Singh caps season as PGA Tour's best

Posted: Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Vijay Singh made sure there was no debate about who was No. 1 in golf.

Disappointed last year by losing to Tiger Woods in a close race, Singh used that as motivation to turn in a dominant season that made him an easy choice as PGA Tour player of the year.

''This year was a landslide,'' Singh said Monday from New York, where he was presented the Jack Nicklaus Award, which is voted on by PGA Tour players. ''My thought this year was to play hard and play good for the whole season. That was a fulfilling thing. I didn't have to wait for the votes.''

The PGA Tour doesn't release the final votes, although that didn't stop Singh from asking whether any of his peers voted for someone other than him. How could they?

Singh dethroned Woods at No. 1 in the world ranking by beating him in a dramatic duel outside Boston in September. He finished so strong that Singh shattered Woods' earnings record, becoming the first $10 million man in golf.

And by winning six of his last nine events, he became only the sixth player in PGA Tour history to win at least nine times.

''It's been a big year,'' Singh said. ''I never thought it was going to be this big, but it's so satisfying to know it has come to this. It was well worth the journey. It's just overwhelming.''

Singh could have been talking about any number of journeys.

It was tough enough coming from South Pacific islands of Fiji, where Singh used to run across an airport runway to get to the golf course.

Banished from tournament golf over allegations he doctored a scoreboard, Singh worked as a club pro in Borneo and a bouncer at a bar in Scotland until he could save up enough money to play on the European tour, and eventually make his way over to America.

But the toughest leg might have been this year. Singh figured it would take at least two or three years to have a chance to be No. 1 in the world, and he got it done sooner than anyone imagined.

It started with a victory at Pebble Beach, then back-to-back wins in New Orleans and Houston. He won the Buick Open outside Detroit by holding off John Daly and Woods, then captured his third major at the PGA Championship in a playoff at Whistling Straits.

''I had something to prove this year, knowing last year was so close,'' Singh said.

Singh swept all the big awards in golf - the Arnold Palmer Award for winning the money title with $10.9 million and the Vardon Trophy for having the lowest scoring average. He earlier locked up the PGA of America player of the year, which is based on points.

Next up is the encore.

Singh turns 42 in February, but he already has started a new workout program ''to take it a little higher,'' and he sees himself playing into his 50s as long as he stays competitive.

But he has gone from chasing Woods to being ahead of the pack, and Singh wants to stay there.

''As they say, it's really hard to get to the top, but to stay there is going to be the hardest thing,'' Singh said. ''I feel like I'm in an open plain, where all I see is the horizon. I feel like I'm running, and everyone is chasing me. I'm just running as fast as I can.

''Sooner or later, I'm going to get tired and someone will catch me,'' he said. ''I want to stay there, stay ahead of the pack, as long as possible.''

Craig Stadler won Champions Tour player of the year, while Jimmy Walker was voted best on the Nationwide Tour.

The PGA Tour rookie of the year also was an easy choice - British Open champion Todd Hamilton, 39, who got his card at Q-school a year ago after toiling for a dozen years on the Asian and Japan tours.

Hamilton won the Honda Classic with a birdie-birdie finish for a one-shot victory over Davis Love III, then went toe-to-toe with Ernie Els over the final 40 holes at Royal Troon, beating him in a playoff.

John Daly won PGA Tour comeback player of the year, winning the Buick Invitational in a three-man playoff for his first PGA Tour victory in nine years, and his first on U.S. soil since 1994.

Mark McNulty of South Africa was the Champions Tour rookie of the year, while Hubert Green returned from cancer and was Champions Tour comeback player of the year.

The first time Singh hoisted a trophy in New York was when he won the 1993 Buick Classic at Westchester Country Club, his rookie season on the PGA Tour.

He never knew where it would all lead. Now he wants to find out how much longer it can last.



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