Singh escaped with a successful title defense last week in the Shell Houston Open, when he defeated John Daly in a sudden-death playoff.
The win was his third of the 2004 season; a year in which he won nine times. This year has been strikingly similar.
A year ago, Singh won right out of the gates at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He didnt win again until Houston. In between, he tied for 13th at The Players Championship and tied for sixth at the Masters Tournament.
This year, Singh again won early in the campaign, at the Sony Open. He didnt win again until Houston. In between, he tied for 12th at The Players and tied for fifth at the Masters.
If Singh is to continue along this familiar path, hell have to win this weeks Zurich Classic on a different venue from that of a year ago.
After 16 years at English Turn Golf and Country Club, the event shifts to the TPC of Louisiana. The par-72, 7,520-yard layout ' a Pete Dye design, of course ' opened in April 2004.
All of the new TPC golf courses are all 7,300 or 7,400 yards, Singh said. Its matching the distance we hit the balls nowadays.
Its just more challenging now on the TPC golf courses. I just hope they go back and redesign the golf courses that weve been playing for years and make it to what we like, which is longer and tougher.
Ever since the TPC at Sawgrass was opened 25 years ago, the tour has been building and adding more TPC courses to their competitive rotation. There are now 23 TPC courses across the country and 10 that currently host tour events.
And few players, if any, have has the success that Singh has had on TPC layouts. Thats just one of the reasons why he is the overwhelming favorite to again triumph this week.
Five for the Title:
There are plenty of reasons to pick Singh to win. First and foremost, hes the defending champion. Secondly, hes the highest-ranked player in attendance. Theres also the fact that he won last week, which makes him the de facto hottest player in the field. But what would appear to be a disadvantage may be Singhs biggest advantage of all this week. This years event is being held at the TPC of Louisiana instead of English Turn G&CC, where Singh triumphed last year. Singh, however, dominates TPC courses. He has won twice at the TPC of Scottsdale (FBR Open) and once at each of the following locations: TPC at Eagle Trace (Honda Classic); TPC at The Woodlands (Shell Houston); TPC at Las Colinas (Byron Nelson); TPC at Deere Run (John Deere); and TPC of Boston (Deutsche Bank Championship). Thats seven victories on TPC venues. Hes tied with Phil Mickelson for the most of any player on tour ' and Mickelson, last years runner-up, is not competing this week.
Part of being inconsistent is being streaky. And fresh off a playoff loss to Singh in Houston, Daly may be headed towards another top-5 finish ' or perhaps a win. Daly has never had much success in this event. He hasnt made a cut here since 1993 and has only one sub-70 score in 13 career rounds played at English Turn. But now he gets to attack the 7,500-yard TPC of Louisiana, which should suit him much, much better.
This will mark DiMarcos first start since losing an epic Masters duel to Tiger Woods three weeks ago. DiMarco faltered in the final round of this event a year ago with an 80, but he has three career top-10 finishes in New Orleans, including in 2002 and 2003. His performance at Augusta National shows that he can more than hold his own on a bombers course. But if there is one negative in DiMarcos column, its that his runner-up finish at Augusta is his only top-40 finish in a stroke-play event this season. DiMarco, who lost to Toms in the finals of the Match Play, is dying for a win; he has only three on tour in 10 seasons, and none since 2002. Perhaps this is the week the Gator finally gets it done.
Ogilvie has been playing as well as anyone this season ' who has yet to win. He has a pair of second-place finishes. He held a two-stroke lead through three rounds of this event a year ago and shot 68 on Sunday. That score, impressive as it was, wasnt enough to hold off a late-charging Singh, who fired 63 to nip him and Mickelson by one. Ogilvie only averages about 275 yards off the tee; however, he made it into a playoff at The Honda Classic, which is played on a 7,400-yard venue, tied for eighth at Bay Hill (7,267 yards) and was sixth outright last week in Houston (7,508 yards).
Finishing the Front 9
Four more players to keep an eye on
*Charles Howell III, who bounced back admirably from a disappointing missed cut in his hometown of Augusta, Ga., with a 17th-place finish last week. He has made the cut in all four of his New Orleans starts, including a tie for fifth last year. He has the distance to compete on the lengthy TPC of Louisiana layout.
*Padraig Harrington, who is readying himself for the U.S. Open by playing primarily in the States over the first half of the year. Since winning The Honda Classic, Harrington has tied for 63rd at The Players and missed the cut at the Masters.
*Davis Love III, who has four top-10s but no wins this season. Love has been battling a neck injury and may finally have gotten on track with his runner-up finish in his last start at the MCI Heritage. Love won this tournament in 1995 to earn a trip to the Masters. He could use another victory to earn a little confidence.
*Bo Van Pelt, who began the season poorly, missing his first four cuts, but has made the cut in seven of his last nine starts. He was in position to make a run at the title in Houston, before finishing double bogey-bogey on Saturday and eventually tying for seventh. Van Pelt seems to have finally found his footing on the PGA Tour after bouncing back and forth between the primary and secondary circuits since turning professional in 1998. He was 39th on the money list last year. This should be a welcome change of venue for Van Pelt, who has missed the cut in each of his previous three appearances in New Orleans.