No 1 Vijay 9 wins 1 major 1 world ranking

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2004 Stories of the YearEditor's note: We are counting down the top 10 stories in golf for the 2004 season. This is Story No. 1.
 
In a few days, Vijay Singh will sit down in a press room in Maui, Hawaii, prior to the start of the Mercedes Championships. A handful of media members will be on hand and they will ask him questions for 5-10 minutes. Singh will probably experience dj vu.
 
Because these journalist, the ones who have covered him over the past few years, the ones who were in that same media center a year ago, will ask him the same questions they always ask him.
 
Why are you playing your best golf after 40? Can you improve upon last season? Did you think you could ever achieve what you have, given where you came from?
 
They asked him these question prior to last years Mercedes, when he was coming off a four-win season in which he topped the PGA Tours money list. And they asked him these questions less than a month ago, when he was announced as Player of the Year, following a nine-win season that included another money title.
 
Not even Singh could have forecasted this year. When he addressed the media before the season-opening Mercedes, he said, I couldnt ask for anything more, in reference to his 2003 campaign
 
But he could ask for a little more ' and he did.
 
He asked to win another major championship; he asked to become a better putter; he asked to be voted as Player of the Year; he asked to become No. 1 in the world.
 
He figured he could accomplish three of those four things this year. Overtaking Tiger Woods in the world rankings, however, might take a little longer. I dont think I can catch him this year, he said. Maybe in a year or so.
 
Who knew he could do it all in 2004?
 
Singh said he started the year slowly. It had nothing to do with the fact that it took him all of four starts to win his first event, at Pebble Beach, but because that was his lone victory until late April
 
Singh won in Houston and in New Orleans in back-to-back weeks; coincidentally, on back-to-back Mondays.
 
But by the time the seasons third major had wrapped up, Singh was still stuck on three wins ' and he hadnt been a factor in the Masters, U.S. Open or the British Open.
 
And so he made a change.
 
After about two-and-a-half years of using the belly putter, Singh switched back to a conventional style.
 
I was putting nicely, but then all of a sudden, I just could not make any more putts. Everything was 33, 32, 33 putts, every round I went out, he said.
 
The British Open was the end of that. I played great golf the first two days and was only 4 under; I should have been 10, 11 under, but just missed so many putts. I think I had 35 putts on the second day and shot 1 under. So, if you do that, you cannot win the golf tournament. You cannot contend anymore.
 
So, you know, I came back and thought about it and said, hey, I can't putt any worse.
 
The decision to revert back to a standard putter was a gutsy one. After all, he had been playing the best golf of his life with the longer version. But both of his major victories came while applying the conventional method. So, he hoped, would his third.
 
The change paid dividends immediately. He won the Buick Open wire-to-wire in his first start post-Troon. His next start was at Whistling Straits, for the PGA Championship.
 
Armed with his usual crisp ball-striking and renewed confidence in his putting, Singh eased to a four-stroke lead through 54 holes of the seasons final major.
 
Thank God for the little putter of mine, he said after the third round.
 
But that putter failed him on Sunday. And so did his driver. And his irons.
 
His game, on the whole, completely abandoned him. He didnt make a single birdie over 18 holes and shot 4-over 76 ' and still qualified for a playoff.
 
Justin Leonards gag job on the final hole of regulation opened the door for a three-man, three-hole playoff between himself, Singh and Chris DiMarco.
 
Singh, admittedly tense during regulation, was visibly relaxed during the playoff. Hey, in a playoff you cant do worse than second, he said. You can just go out there and just beat the crap out of the ball if you have to.
 
He did just that on the first playoff hole, bruising his ball with a driver on the short par-4 10th ' while the other two used fairway metals, leaving him just a pitch shot on his approach. Singh hit his second to 6 feet and converted the birdie putt. It was his only birdie of the day ' and the only birdie he would need, as neither DiMarco nor Leonard could do better than par in the playoff.
 
Singh was once again a major champion.
 
I think this is the biggest accomplishment Ive ever had in my whole career, he said.
 
This makes my year right here.
 
Five wins, one major, roughly $6.8 million in earnings. Thats not just a great year, thats almost the equivalent of what John Dalys accomplished in his entire career ' and it was only the middle of August!
 
Singhs 2004 song, however, hadnt even reached its high note.
 
The win at Whistling Straits gave Singh more than just his third career major championship; it gave him something even he thought was impossible to attain in such a short amount of time.
 
Over the past two years, Singh was arguably the best player on the planet. Now there was no debate.
 
The man who grew up poor in Fiji, was kicked off the Asian Tour in the 80s, gave $10 lessons in a Borneo rainforest, moonlighted as a bouncer while trying to make ends meet on the European Tour, was a PGA Tour rookie at the age of 30, and endured a public backlash in 2003, was now the No. 1 player in the world, ending Woods 264-week reign atop the Official World Golf Ranking.
 
And he still wasnt satisfied. As always, there was still work to be done.
 
Its always been a goal of mine, he said of reaching the top. But I want to finish (the year) No. 1.
 
To win a major, win the money list and the Player of the Year at the same time, and be No. 1 in the world ' that will be an achievement.
 
Singh reached all of his lofty goals by never easing up on the gas. The man who often works out six days a week, usually twice a day, was relentless over the last three months of the season. And damn-near unbeatable.
 
He beat Woods head-to-head at the Deutsche Bank Championship, beat national hero Mike Weir in playoff in the Bell Canadian Open, won the 84 Lumber Classic wire-to-wire, and captured the Chrysler Championship to eclipse the $10 million mark.
 
The final numbers: nine wins; one major; a record $10,905,166 in official earnings; the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average; PGA Player of the Year; PGA Tour Player of the Year; No. 1 in the world; 41 years of age.
 
You dont really wake up one day and think youre going to be able to play like I did this year, Singh said. Its a buildup to it. You win one and then you win another one. You get more confident, like snowballing. You feel more comfortable and confident. You cant wait to get to the next hole and play better. Thats how its been.
 
I think next season will be even harder than this one, he added. They say its really hard to get to the top, but to stay there is going to be the hardest thing.
 
I feel like Im running and everybody is chasing me sooner or later Im going to get tired and guys are going to catch me. So I want to stay there. I want to stay ahead of the pack as long as possible and thats the battle Im going to face the next year and maybe a few more years to come.
 
Singh figures to play about 28 events next season, and doesnt see why he cant win one out of every three tournaments he enters. And why not? From where hes been to where he is ' there are no boundaries.
 
I feel like Im in an open plane, he said. All you see is just the horizon.
 
Related Links:
  • 2004 Year in Review