Singh Cruises to Bay Hill Title

By Associated PressMarch 18, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 Arnold Palmer InvitationalORLANDO, Fla. -- Vijay Singh kept staring at the silver trophy from the Arnold Palmer Invitational, turning it slightly at the base to make sure his name was finally on the list of champions.
 
Even then, it must have been hard to believe.
 
Singh has been coming to Bay Hill for 15 years. He had left with nothing but three runner-up finishes and plenty of heartache. There was that bogey-bogey finish in 1994 to lose to Loren Roberts, the 7-iron into the lake on the 18th two years ago to lose to Kenny Perry.
 
He made sure that wouldn't happen Sunday.
 
Singh played so well in the middle that it didn't matter how bad it got at the end. Even with a bogey-bogey-par finish, the 44-year-old Fijian still matched the best score of the final round with a 3-under 67 that gave him a two-shot victory over Rocco Mediate.
 
'I knew how difficult Bay Hill plays on Sunday,' he said. 'It was a good feeling to be standing on 18 tee knowing that you don't have to make a par to win the tournament.'
 
He played his approach far away from the water and wound up making par, anyway.
 
Singh, who finished at 8-under 272, became the first multiple winner on the PGA TOUR this year. His 31st career victory tied him with Harry 'Lighthorse' Cooper of England with the most by a foreign-born player.
 
'I love this place,' Singh said. 'I hate the 18th hole, but I love the rest of it. It feels great. Having won Jack's tournament (Memorial) and now Arnie's, it's a great one to get.'
 
Mediate made three clutch par saves to keep alive his hopes, only to find trouble on the 18th for a bogey and a 67.
 
Vaughn Taylor, who had a two-shot lead going into the final round, didn't make a birdie until the 15th hole. His only other birdie came on the 18th to give him a 73 and third place, but it was not enough to move him into the top 50 in the world ranking and qualify for the World Golf Championship next week at Doral.
 
Ben Curtis closed with a 72 to finish fourth.
 
Tiger Woods delivered a dramatic finish, but not the kind anyone expected.
 
His chances ended with a three-putt double bogey on the 11th hole, and then a bad day got even worse. Woods hit his tee shot into the water on the par-3 17th and made double bogey. After chipping out of the rough on the 18th, he hit his third into the water and made triple bogey for a 43 on the back nine.
 
He closed with a 76, his highest score in a regular PGA TOUR event since a 76 in the third round of the Memorial four years ago. Woods wound up tied for 22nd, ending his streak of 13 straight top 10s worldwide, nine of those on the PGA TOUR.
 
Woods left the course without comment.
 
The sweetest words came from Palmer, who gave Singh an exemption to Bay Hill in 1993 when the Fijian was unknown in these parts. Singh went on to win at Westchester and was voted PGA TOUR rookie of the year. And he never missed a trip back to Bay Hill.
 
Palmer was waiting for him when he walked off the 18th green.
 
'Arnold said, 'Well done. It was a long time coming,'' Singh said.
 
In a career that seems to have no end, Singh now has 19 victories since turning 40 -- the same as Davis Love III, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite won in their entire careers.
 
Perhaps it's only fitting that the trophy is topped by an image of Palmer lashing away with the driver. The King swung for the fences, and made a name for himself with so many daring escapes from trouble spots.
 
That might have been how Singh won the tournament.
 
Singh ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch to close out the front nine, and he was coming off a three-putt bogey on the 11th. He decided to go for the par-5 12th in two by hitting driver off the deck, but pulled it under a tree left of the green.
 
Thinking he was in trouble, Singh was thrilled to see a gap in the branches for him to hit wedge toward the green, and he surprised even himself by making a 20-foot birdie putt with about 6 feet of break.
 
Singh essentially sealed victory three holes later when he hit driver over the corner of two houses and a group of Magnolia trees on the 15th, so far that he had only sand wedge left to the green. He spun the ball off the slope to within 2 feet for birdie.
 
That allowed him room for mistakes, and he made his share with bogeys on the 16th and 17th that affected only the margin.
 
'It gives me belief that I can still win out here with the best of them, and not only once,' Singh said. 'I can keep winning.'
 
The consolation for Mediate was his $594,000 for second place, more than enough for him to secure a job the rest of the year. Mediate started the season on a minor medical exemption because of a back injury last year, and he was given 10 tournaments to earn the equivalent of 125th on the 2006 money list.
 
'Ridiculous satisfaction,' Mediate said. 'This is huge.'
 
Sergio Garcia also tried to make a run and got within two shots with a 15-foot birdie on the 13th. But he bogeyed the next two holes, missing a 4-foot par putt on the 15th, and finishing his round of 71 by missing another 4-footer on the 18th. He tied for fifth with John Rollins (71) and Tom Lehman (72).
 
DIVOTS
Singh tied for best score of the day each of the last two rounds, both times with a 67. ... The winning score would have been 16 under if Palmer had not changed par to a 70. The winning score last year was 14-under 274. ... Mediate went 18 straight holes without a bogey until the 72nd hole. ... J.B. Holmes shot 49 on the front nine and was 15 over through his first 10 holes before he played his eight holes in 2 under for an 83. ... Lehman left Bay Hill knowing he would have to watch the Masters on TV. He needed second place alone for a chance to get to Doral and possibly the Masters.
 
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