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.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.