Vijay Singh keeps pushing himself even when it doesn't matter.
He will play his final tournament of an amazing 2004 season Thursday when he leads an elite, 16-man field in the Target World Challenge, the unofficial event hosted by Tiger Woods.
This will be the first time since 1997 that Woods does not end the season at No. 1 in the world ranking. Singh took that away from him, along with the all the awards, after winning nine times, bagging another major and becoming the first $10 million man on the PGA Tour.
John Daly called it 'the most unappreciated season of any human being that's every played the game of golf,' although even Singh would take issue with that.
'I appreciate it,' he said with a laugh after his pro-am round Wednesday. 'It was a great year. I did what I've wanted to do for a long, long time, and I guess practice pays off.'
Singh will have three weeks off after this week, perhaps enough time to let his achievements sink in. But part of him already is looking ahead to 2005, and what he will do for an encore.
'I hope I just keep playing the way I am,' Singh said. 'I don't see why I cannot. I'm looking forward to it. I know it's going to be a very difficult season for me because there's a little bit more pressure. How I'm going to handle it, that's entirely up to me.'
One thing is clear.
The 41-year-old Fijian who has spent the last dozen years chasing the No. 1 spot in the world now has to look over his shoulder to see who's coming at him.
And it might not be any one player.
Woods said his swing changes finally took hold last month, and he won the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan with a game he said would have been good enough to win anywhere.
Ernie Els had five victories, four close calls in the majors and is just as hungry. Phil Mickelson won his first major. Retief Goosen is finally getting his due as one of the toughest competitors in golf.
'I think everybody in the top 10 is going to be playing really well,' Singh said. 'I think Mike Weir is coming up, as well. It's going to be a good showdown next year.'
>This week might be a decent preview, even though several players who qualified through the world ranking decided to take a vacation, which is becoming a rarity in golf with all the offseason events.
Still, the field includes five players in the top 10 ' Singh, Woods, Padraig Harrington, Davis Love III and Stewart Cink ' along with Ryder Cup player such as Miguel Angel Jimenez, Chris DiMarco, Chad Campbell, 51-year-old Jay Haas and former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk.
And then there's Daly.
He also was honored this week as the PGA Tour comeback player of the year, having won at Torrey Pines in February for his first PGA Tour victory on U.S. soil in 10 years.
'It's a great award, but it just shows that you didn't do very good last year,' Daly said. 'But it is a cool award. And I take pride in the fact that I worked very hard to come back like I did.'
Even more pleasing to Daly is that he is at Sherwood, assembled with other guys who are recognized for good play.
Three years ago, Daly won in Germany for his first official victory in six years. He thought that might be good enough to merit an invitation to the Target World Challenge, but the mail box was empty.
'I'm just glad Tiger invited me this year,' Daly said.
Like several players, he sees this as a casual way to end the season and a tune up for next year. Daly will stay on the West Coast the rest of the year before heading over to Hawaii for the winners-only Mercedes Championships at Kapalua, followed by the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Daly had a consistent year by his standards. He had five top 10s and missed only three cuts (although three came in the only majors he played), and qualified for the Tour Championship for the first time since his rookie season in 1991, when he stormed onto the golf scene with his PGA Championship victory.
'This is kind of like a year in '91 without a major ' very consistent all around,' Daly said. 'But to be even close to what Tiger and Vijay and Phil and Ernie and those guys do year in and year out ... it's just one year. I've got to feed off of it and just take it from there.'
Singh feel the same way, even though the dynamics have changed. Instead of chasing No. 1, Singh knows he's the guy to beat even at silly-season events.
'They can hunt me all they want,' Singh said. 'I know how to hide.'
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