Singh Tracking Tiger
The 41-year-old Fijian is no longer simply a solid player reaping the fruits of his incredible labor, rather a legitimate threat to Tiger Woods. And the biggest difference of all is the increasingly smaller margin between No. 1 and No. 2 in the world.
Singh's methodical victory at the rain-delayed Houston Open was his second of the PGA Tour season and the fourth in his last 16 tournaments, moving him within 2.58 points of Woods in the world ranking released Tuesday.
In October, Singh said he would give himself five good years to see if he could overtake Woods.
At this rate, it could happen in five months.
'If I keep playing like I did this weekend, I think I have a very good chance,' Singh said after a 69-68 finish at Redstone Golf Club for a two-shot victory over Scott Hoch.
Not many would have picked Singh as the guy most likely to challenge Woods.
A year ago, Singh was among a half-dozen guys who got off to a good start. In his first 11 tournaments, Singh won in Phoenix and Dallas, had six top 10s, missed one cut and tied for sixth in the Masters. Throw out the cut and his average finish was 10th.
This year is a carbon copy.
Singh has won twice in 11 starts, has six top 10s, one missed cut and tied for sixth at Augusta National. Throw out the cut, and his average finish is 11th.
Why the change in perception?
As others around him - Mike Weir, Ernie Els, Davis Love III and Woods - peeled off, Singh barreled through the year on a mission. He set the bar high and scaled it with ease, reeling off eight top 10s to close out the season, including two victories, two runner-up finishes and nothing worse than a tie for sixth.
He said he wanted to win the money title and he did, ending Woods' four-year reign.
'He's an excellent player, one of our best,' Hoch said. 'Last year, he was playing better than anybody when the season was over.'
No one can doubt the gap is shrinking. The 2.58 points separating Singh from Woods is still significant, but it is the smallest margin since the ranking system was tweaked 20 months ago.
The question is whether Singh, Els and Phil Mickelson are getting better - or if Woods is getting worse.
The answer lies somewhere in between.
Woods successfully defended his title at the Match Play Championship, a testament to his mind and his grit to survive six matches in five days. But in five other PGA Tour events he has played this year, Woods has fared worse than he did in 2003. Going for a fifth straight win at Bay Hill, he tied for 46th. Trying to prove that his game is not far off, he tied for 22nd at the Masters, his lowest finish at Augusta National as a pro.
Mickelson is the only other two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year, and he gets major bonus points for winning the Masters with a 31 on the back nine and five birdies over his final seven holes.
Els has won twice around the world: a repeat playoff victory at the Sony Open in Honolulu, and a career-best 60 at Royal Melbourne, one of the classiest courses in the world, while winning the Heineken Classic.
Still, no player has more closely resembled Woods than Singh.
No one is ever surprised to see him contending on the weekend. Even when Singh is seemingly out of contention, his name somehow winds up on the leaderboard Sunday afternoon. And give him a 54-hole lead, and he is more likely to have brunch with the media than allow someone else to win.
The Houston Open was the sixth consecutive time he has won with at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
How long he can keep this up remains to be seen, although the secret to his longevity was evident Monday afternoon after collecting his 17th career victory. Walking off the 18th green, Singh smiled broadly and gave a bear hug to his trainer, Joey Diovisalvi, whom he calls the backbone of his success.
'He's pushed me so hard the last two years,' Singh said earlier this season. 'He's in the gym with me in the mornings and in the evenings, every day, two times a day, five or six days a week.'
Singh believes he can compete at this level for at least five more years. The future has never seemed so close, and the stretch of golf leading into the U.S. Open could go a long way toward defining the size of the gap.
Woods is expected to play next week in the Wachovia Championship, which features a $5.6 million purse and a field that includes Singh and Mickelson. All three, along with Els, plan to be at the Byron Nelson Classic to compete for a $5.8 million purse and ranking points exceeded only by the majors.
Woods keeps insisting his game is not that far off, and he may be right. His game should not be judged on one month.
There are no such questions about Singh.
By now, everyone knows what to expect from him.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...
Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner
On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...
Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.
After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.
Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.
A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray
Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call
PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.
At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.
“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”
Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.
Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.
Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.
“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.
Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park
PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.
Laura Davies won the day.
It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.
Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.
Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.
For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.
In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.
“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”
At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.
“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”
Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.
“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.
With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.
“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”
Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.
“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”
She also relished showing certain fans something.
“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.
Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.
In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.
Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.
“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.
After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.
“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”
Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.
In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.
“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”
And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.
Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill
ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.
The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?
“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”
And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.
After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.
“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”