Singh Looks to Break Out of Shell


2006 Shell Houston OpenThis weeks Shell Houston Open will mark Vijay Singhs 10th PGA TOUR event of the 2006 season. This is significant, not because 10 is a celebratory number, but because he has yet to win this year.
Not since 2001, when Singh failed to win a tournament the entire year, has Singh played this many TOUR events to begin a season without a victory.
Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh is trying to become the first four-time winner of this event.
In 2002, Singh made this particular tournament his first seasonal triumph, but that came in his ninth start. Over the last three years, he hasnt gone more than four tournaments deep before hoisting a trophy.
This drought ' at least by Singhs standards ' could have been avoided right off the bat had he not lost in a playoff to Stuart Appleby at the Mercedes Championships.
That event, too, is significant.
By beating Singh in extra holes, Appleby captured his third consecutive Mercedes title. That is something that Singh is now trying to accomplish in Houston.
Only two men have done such a thing over the last quarter-century: Appleby and Tiger Woods. Woods, in fact, has done it three times. From 1999-2001, he won the WGC-NEC Invitational and the Memorial Tournament. And, from 2000-2003, he won four straight times at the Bay Hill Invitational.
Recently, others have tried and failed to three-peat, including Woods. He won the 2001 and 2002 Masters, but tied for 15th in 03. He won the 2002 and 2003 WGC-American Express, but finished ninth in 04. And, he won the 2003 and 2004 WGC-Accenture Match Play, but lost in the second round in 05.
Ernie Els, Mike Weir and David Toms all came close to winning three straight. Els won the Sony Open in 2003-04; Weir the Nissan Open in 2003-04; and Toms the FedEx St. Jude in 2003-04 ' and all finished runner-up in their respective events in 2005.
If he should fail in his three-peat bid, Singh will have another chance later this year at the Buick Open. Vaughn Taylor will also have a chance for three straight in this years Reno-Tahoe Open.
Singh is more than just the two-time defending champion on this event; hes one of only two people to win it three times (Curtis Strange). He earned his first Shell Houston title in 2002, the final year the TPC at The Woodlands played host. His most recent victories came at Redstone Golf Club.
Singh will again try to win at Redstone, but this time on a different course -- the Tournament Course. It's not 7,508 yards like the Member Course, which played host each of the last three years, but it still measures a distant 7,457.
Redstone, regardless of venue, is a bombers paradise. In addition to Singh, Fred Couples won here in 2003. Singh knocked off John Daly last year in a playoff.
Obviously, Singh is the favorite once again this week. Here are five others who have a chance to end his reign.
Darren Clarke
Clarke almost made history two weeks ago at the Masters, when he had a chance to become the first European-born player to win a major championship this century. A closing 77, however, relegated him to a tie for 22nd. The Northern Irishman, who has a pair of WGC victories to his credit, is making his third career start in this event. He finished second at The Woodlands in 2002, and then tied for fourth a year ago.
Jose Maria Olazabal
Olazabal is one of the games all-time greats on and around the greens, but, ironically, its his performance on lengthy venues that makes him among the favorites this week. The 40-year-old Spaniard, who lost his TOUR status after 2004, has resurrected his career thanks to success on some meaty layouts. He has six top-3s over the past two seasons and they have come on courses like Torrey Pines South (7,604 yards); Augusta National (7,445); Redstone (7,508); and TPC at Sugarloaf (7,293). He has a pair of third-place finishes in this event ' one at Redstone (2005) and one at The Woodlands (2002).
Padraig Harrington
Continuing with the European theme, Harrington is due for a great week. His lone top-10 on TOUR this season came in a tie for fifth at the Match Play, where he lost to Davis Love III in the quarterfinals. The Irishman is making his debut in this tournament, but that shouldnt be a problem. He earned his maiden TOUR title last year at The Honda Classic, the first time he had played that event. He then won the Barclays Classic in just his second trip around Westchester C.C. (the year before he tied for second there).
Lucas Glover
Glover hits the ball plenty long to contend at Redstone; he averages 296 yards off the tee. The 2005 Funai Classic champion got off to a great start his season, with four top-10s from the Mercedes to Doral. He missed the cut at The Players and at the Masters, but bounced back with a solid tie for 12th last week in Hilton Head. Glover has twice before played this event, tying for 29th in his 2004 debut and tying for seventh a year ago.
Bo Van Pelt
Like Glover, Van Pelt can routinely pop it 300 yards off the tee. And like Glover, he tied for seventh here last year. But unlike Glover, he is without a TOUR victory. Van Pelt has a pair of top-10s this year, with one coming at The Players Championship. Hell try and become the first player since Robert Allenby in 2000 to make this his first TOUR victory.
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