The difference, of course, is the massive shadow of one Tiger Woods. Last year Tiger struggled fitfully and never did seem to get the Woods Express untracked. This year, he looks dangerously close to the form he had in 2000-2001, when he won 17 times. If Singh is going to win five more times this year, hes going to have to be awfully sharp to do it.
Vijay and Tiger were one-two ' with Zach Johnson tying Woods for second ' in the Buick go-round. Look for them to butt heads several more times before the season is over ' at the PGA, the NEC Invitational, the Deutsche Bank, the American Express, the Presidents Cup, and the Tour Championship. They may play together at the FUNAI Classic or the 84 Lumber.
That will be a true test of the reformed Woods swing. If Singh should go on another tear approximating last years late-summer performance, then Tiger isnt quite as polished as he hopes. But if Tiger wraps up a couple of more victories before the season ends, then he is right back where he was at the end of 2000.
For one week last week, though, Singh had his number. Woods had a scorching second-round score of 61, and tore up the back nine again Sunday with a 30. But Vijay was steady ' and good ' all four rounds. One stroke ahead of Tiger and paired with him in the third round, Singh lit it up for a 63 while Tiger was turning in a 70. That meant Singh could merely play Sunday to protect, while Woods had to go out and try to make up eight strokes to catch him. The closest Tiger could come was two strokes.
I thought at least if I played solid on the back nine, I'd finish second probably, and if I played a great back nine, I might be in position just in case Vijay messed up, said Woods. But he's playing too well to do that. Vijay is playing beautifully.
Singh was ecstatic over his putting at the Buick. Putting seems to have been the difference in this year and last year. While he certainly hasnt putted poorly this season, last season he putted well enough to finish 37th on the tour rankings. This year hes 49th, but he used a different putter last week and rolled it only 19 times the first round when he shot a 65. The final round, nursing a large lead, he just tried to assure himself of a two-putt each hole and finished with 27 rolls. For the tournament, he still was 17th.
And like at almost every tournament on the planet, the man who putts the best generally has a very good chance of winning.
I feel I'm playing better this year than I did last year, Singh said in an ominous quote at weeks end. I putted very well toward the end of the season last year. I putted like I did this week. If you putt well and play well, you're going to score well.
You know, I'm excited. I just hope I can just follow what I did last year. I mean, it's going to be hard, it's one of the hardest things to do is go out there and win golf tournaments. And as many as I won towards the end of last year, it's going to be almost impossible. But I'm going to give it a shot.
Singh has now won 28 times on the PGA Tour in a career that didnt start until he was 30. And he has won 16 times since he turned 40 years of age. Stop a moment and let that soak in.
Last year, naturally, seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Tiger, in the midst of a swing change, was playing nowhere as well as he has this year. And yet, Singhs win in the Buick ' Tigers sponsor, by the way, and with Tiger going against him head-to-head ' makes one wonder.
I'm a week-to-week player, Singh said with a shrug. I'm in the present and that's the way I think all the time.
But Vijay himself says Tiger is definitely the front-runner for Player of the Year honors. Singh has played rather sporadically this year, missing the cut at Pebble Beach and the Memorial. Hes been in the top seven in four of the last five events, however, and that includes the U.S. Open and British Open. He finished T-13 in the fifth event.
This year, though, is not last year. Tiger Woods of this year isnt the Tiger of last year. Singh could play just as good the remainder of this year and still win only, say, two. Vijay is still Vijay. Tiger is acting suspiciously like the Tiger of old. This, my friends, could get very interesting.
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