Its really sharpening the dagger to say a man who has won 17 times in the past three years is in a slump. No, he isnt ' not by a long shot. But you dont judge a person with Vijays record the same as you would, say, a Tag Ridings. Vijay started 2005 as the No. 1 player in the world. Hes still No. 4, and that is rarified air not susceptible to criticism.
He last won an event late in July of last year ' the Buick Open. Hes 42 years old, but he has always been one of the best-conditioned athletes on the tour. Hes hitting the ball plenty long enough this year, hes putting very well ' 15th among the 183 players ranked. Hes just not chalking up the victories as he used to.
Vijay admits there have been niggling little problems. He hasnt won in 10 months ' thats 18 events - and the drought has him just a tad concerned.
It's like a bow and arrow - you pull the bow to the max and let it go, and I'm not quite doing that, he said.
Lets state the obvious ' two critical changes have occurred since Singh was No. 1. First, Tiger Woods has successfully revamped a swing that was still in the introductory stages when Vijay won nine times in 2004. And secondly, Phil Mickelsons game has vastly improved. Its extremely difficult seeing anyone winning nine times in 2006 if he has to fight those two guys for the Ws.
It's not because I'm not playing good, Singh said during the Players Championship earlier this month. I'm just not playing the way I did last year and the year before. My level of play has dropped, not out of neglect or anything. It's just that's the way it goes. I mean, golf is a weird game.
If someone else would bolt past Woods and Mickelson into the first two positions, they would have to play some very good golf indeed. Singh is well aware of that, too ' he just isnt about to concede the positions to his two rivals.
I'm going to try very hard to do that, he said. It's not going to happen in the next two or three weeks, but as far behind as I am - I think I'm 10 points behind him (Woods), and that's huge. That's 10 wins. He's not going to stop winning, either.
But I just have to step up. I was talking to somebody the other day, and it's just, like, the top guys have almost conceded. It's like we arrive at the golf tournament and they've conceded if Tiger is playing. That's the feeling that I don't have. I'm more aggressive. I want to go out there and take it on, and if my golf game just gets around like it was, sure, I'll be there.
Singh hasnt been contending for wins as he did early last year, either. Through the first five months of last year, he finished second or third five times. In the past 11 months, he has one tie for second ' a loss in a playoff at Mercedes. This, in addition to his win at Buick. So far this season he has been bedeviled by one lackluster round in almost every tournament he has played. He had a 77 on the final day at the Players, a 73 the second round at Doral, a 74 the second round of the Masters, a 75 last week at Houston.
Along with those blah rounds, though, he also has 12 scores of 68 or better.
Singh says that he looked at video of his swing at the Players and noticed what he was doing wrong ' a rhythm issue, the same mistake that I've been doing forever, he said. But he has tried hard to correct the flaw. Along the way, he has gotten about nine (telephone) calls from well-meaning friends about what he was doing wrong. Now, he says the swing is again where he wants it.
And by the way, he says, the 42-year-old Singh is a much smarter player than the Singh in his 30s.
I think I manage my game a little bit better, he reasons. My miss-hits are a lot better, and I know when to attack the pins and when not to ... just playing away from trouble when you need to, don't take risks when it's not necessary. If you have a short iron in your hand, sand wedges, you can go at the flags. Those are the things that I do better now.
Winning tournaments, though, is a trick that has eluded him the last 10 months. Being No. 1 has turned into being No. 4. Its time for Vijay to do something positive again. He knows it, too.
I'm feeling good about my game. Hopefully I can take it out there and just play now and not think about what's wrong with my golf swing.
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