Not that Vijay Singh, who earned a green jacket in 2000 and is suddenly the first player to win twice in America in 2007, wasnt on everybodys watch list already.
I feel, Singh said afterward, like Ive got my game back.
Singh had arrived here with distinctly sour-tasting memories of Bay Hill. He had finished with at least a share of second place on three different occasions, the most recent being two years ago.
On that Sunday in 2005 he rinsed a 7-iron on the 72nd hole to hand the tournament to Kenny Perry. Afterward Singh admitted he had selected the wrong club. Even though he moved back into the top spot in the world rankings that day, it was small consolation. And it didnt help his confidence much that he had missed a 3-footer the previous week that allowed Padraig Harrington to beat defeat him at the Honda Classic.
This Bay Hill felt more like Bay Hell for Singh Thursday when he bogeyed his first two holes. But a Friday 68 followed by a Saturday 67 followed by an outgoing Sunday 31 put him in full command with a three-shot lead at the turn.
That was right about the same time Tiger Woods, a four-time champion at Bay Hill, was double-bogeying the 11th hole to fall from 5 under to 3 under. Tiger had sent a jolt through the galleries when he birdied his first two holes in the final round. A bogey on No. 3 blunted the charge and the 11th (drive in rough, lay-up still in rough, three putts) ended his hopes.
And it got worse for the worlds No. 1. Woods followed a bogey on 16 with a double and a triple to finish with a final nine of 43 that sent pressroom statisticians scurrying to find out if Woods had ever shot that high a number for a final nine in his professional career that began in 1996.
Turns out the 43 tied for the worst nine-hole score for Woods since the front nine of the second round of the 1996 TOUR Championship at Southern Hills in Oklahoma. At that event Woods had spent the entire night in the hospital with his father who had suffered a heart attack.
Woods did not stop and talk to the media after his round Sunday. And who could blame him?
Meanwhile, 54-hole leader Vaughn Taylor labored mightily much of the day. He began the last round with a two-shot lead over Ben Curtis, three ahead of Singh and Tom Lehman. But bogeys on the second and fourth holes pretty much killed his buzz. And it was not unexpected. Taylor arrived this week ranked 166th in final round scoring average.
And he was still fighting a reputation for being too hard on himself, a tendency that PGA TOUR players must learn to curb if for no reason other than a desire for longevity. Its almost like a disease Taylor confessed of his quest for perfection.
Taylor did birdie the last hole to finish solo third behind runner-up Rocco Mediate and it was good enough to earn Taylor a berth in next weeks WGC-CA Championship at Doral.
Singhs three-shot lead at the turn had shrunk to just one momentarily when Mediate, the 36-hole leader, birdied the 14th hole while Singh was making bogey at 11. But Singh responded immediately with a clever third from behind a tree on the par 5 12th followed by a 20-footer for birdie.
The lead was still two when Singh got to the 72nd hole which had punched a hole in his memory bank two years ago. It was a good feeling standing on 18 knowing you dont have to make par to win the tournament.
Par, thanks to a one-putt, is what Singh made.
Coming in, Singh had quietly slipped all the way down to No. 9 in the Official World Golf Ranking. The Bay Hill win moved him back up to No. 7.
So Im all excited, yeah. Singh said at the prospect of the approaching Masters.
Not too many others who faced the stern test of Bay Hill last week can say the same.
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