Big Fijian Derives Strength from Desire

By Associated PressJanuary 8, 2007, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)KAPALUA, Hawaii -- First came his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. A week later brought an end to his worst season in five years on the PGA TOUR, and what appeared to be the beginning of the end to Vijay Singh.
 
'I think he was out to prove that wasn't the case,' Davis Love III said.
 
The proof was in Singh's two-shot victory in the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, a command performance in which Singh didn't make a bogey over the final 29 holes and never let anyone closer than two shots to him over the final 25 holes.
 
And it was no accident.
 
Morning and evening for two weeks on the Big Island, he pounded his body in the gym. During the day, he spent five hours on the practice range hitting some 400 balls, leaving enough time for him to play 18 holes. Then he flew over to Maui determined to remind the winners-only field that he has not gone away.
 
'I wanted this win, and I practiced hard for it,' said Singh, who turns 44 next month. 'I worked hard and it paid off.'
 
His work ethic is now legendary in golf circles.
 
Adam Scott figured it out quickly when he joined the PGA TOUR and noticed that Singh didn't leave the practice range before dark. Davis Love III rarely goes to the gym without seeing Singh, 'and I'm sure he's in there when I'm not.'
 
More than sheer work, however, Singh's legacy might be his desire.
 
He already considers it a miracle that someone could grow in Fiji and win on the PGA TOUR. Even more astounding is that Sunday was his 30th career victory, tied for 16th on the career list with Leo Diegel.
 
And he now has won 18 times since turning 40, breaking the record held by Sam Snead.
 
Singh wasn't impressed.
 
'There's no trophies for doing it,' he said. 'Really, it's just a record created by who? It's not even a record. It's just numbers.'
 
But put that in perspective.
 
Love has won 19 times (one major) in his career. Singh is one victory away from doing that in his 40s.
 
'And everyone looks at Davis as having a great career,' Luke Donald said. 'If you keep yourself fit, age isn't a factor and he's a testament to that. It's hard to have that dedication for so long, that desire to want to succeed. Let's face it, we all get lazy from time to time. Vijay seems to bypass that and continues to work hard to get better.'
 
Johnny Miller once said the difference between him and Jack Nicklaus was that Miller once reached the top of the mountain and wondered what else there was to prove, while Nicklaus reached the top and looked for the next mountain.
 
Singh knows the feeling.
 
He reached his peak in 2004 when he won nine times and replaced Tiger Woods at No. 1 in the world, holding the top spot for the better part of six months until Woods went on one of his tears.
 
Singh has a constant battle with his putting, and then his swing started to leave him. But he never lost his desire.
 
'It's easy to fall off the top,' he said. 'Once you're sliding down, you've got to have something to hold onto. My physical condition probably kept me there. If I wasn't strong enough, once you mentally get a little frustrated, you can just slide off so quickly. The good news is I'm fresh and I'm really looking forward to the season.
 
'I'm quite happy with the way I'm feeling right now.'
 
For the longest time, Love was motivated by how well Nicklaus played in his 40s. He won the U.S. Open and PGA Championship at age 40, then captured his sixth Masters title in 1986 at age 46. Love also was inspired by good friend Jay Haas, who qualified for the TOUR Championship when he was 50.
 
'This is now the standard of never saying, 'I'm done,'' Love said of Singh. 'It's pretty incredible. He doesn't get injured very much. He's good at what he does, and he's very efficient. If he wasn't that strong, or that supple, he might not be able to do that.'
 
The next question is how much longer Singh can play at this level.
 
He was approaching his 40th birthday when he set out to become No. 1 in the world, a goal that seemed laughable considering his age (39), his world ranking (No. 7) and the fact Woods had won the Masters, U.S. Open and was runner-up at the PGA Championship that year.
 
Two years and 13 victories later, Singh was No. 1.
 
'He's a great ball-striker; he hits enough balls, he ought to be,' Scott said. 'But he's pretty good at everything. You don't get to where he's gotten being average.'
 
The odds are against Singh reaching that pinnacle again, mainly because Woods shows no sign of letting up. The world's No. 1 player skipped Kapalua, and will go after his seventh consecutive PGA TOUR victory in three weeks at the Buick Invitational.
 
Singh sets no limits to what he can do.
 
'Fred Funk won a golf tournament when he was 48, and I'm a lot bigger and a lot stronger than Freddie Funk,' Singh said. 'So if he can win at 48, what makes me think I'm not going to win when I'm 50? I'm not looking that far ahead. Right now, I'm just looking at the way I feel and I'm going to continue to work hard at my physical shape.
 
'If I'm healthy and playing the way I'm doing right now ... five, six, 10 years, I don't know. I'm just going to keep going.'

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