There are five PGA Tour events that comprise the Southern Swing ' the series of events in Florida and Georgia that preclude the seasons first major. Each has its own identity and value, but none more so than this weeks tournament.
This is the Players Championship; the fifth biggest event on the schedule; the densest field of top-ranked players; the most lucrative purse on tour ' more than just another opportunity to fine-tune ones game under tournament conditions.
No one understands ' or believes ' this more than Vijay Singh. He lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, and the TPC at Sawgrass practice facilities are akin to his second home.
Singh has 16 victories on tour. He has two major championships. He has one money title. What he doesnt have is the Waterford crystal trophy that comes with winning the Players.
And because of that his sights are set here, not focused on two weeks down the road.
This is my main goal right now, is to play well in this tournament, he said Tuesday. This, I consider, is the first major and the next is the Masters.
Singh has played well in the past in this event ' and he has not.
He almost won in 2001, finishing second to Tiger Woods, but has missed the cut each of the last two years.
I think Ive put too much pressure on myself, he said. But this year Im going to take it as it comes. Im going to go out there and enjoy myself, and the attitude is: I cant do any worse than last year.
Singh kicked off Players week the way he usually does ' with a house party Monday night.
We had a few bottles of water (who says he doesnt have a sense of humor?), a few mixed drinks, a few beers, a few wines. We had a good time, a lot of good food, just a get-together, he said.
Ive been doing it the last six or seven years. It started off with the Presidents Cup teammates, and then went to a few friends, and now the whole group (about 100 people, he estimated) is coming over. It was a good day, a good evening.
A year ago this time, Singh was trying to battle back from a rib injury. And he did so quite nicely. He won four times on the season, and ended Tiger Woods four-year reign atop the money list.
Now, he feels he ready to overtake Tiger at No. 1 in the world rakings.
Id like to hit that top spot, if I can, he said. The amount of tournaments I play, my average doesnt do me any favors. But Im going to try. I think this year Ive got a very good chance to do that. Im playing well. And the big events are just starting. I feel if I can maintain my play and win a couple of them, I think I can hit the spot.
Singh already has a green jacket and a Wannamaker trophy to his credit. He now needs the U.S. Open and British Open to hit for the cycle.
He had great chances in both of those majors last year. He shared the 36-hole lead at Olympia Fields, but finished 11 strokes behind winner Jim Furyk after weekend rounds of 72-78. He then couldnt quite close the deal at Royal St. Georges and finished a single shot back of Ben Curtis.
I had my chances, Singh said. Thats why only a handful of guys have won all four ' its probably the hardest thing to do.
Even if you just had one to (win to complete the Grand Slam), its just a difficult task to fulfill.
But one that Singh believes he can come closer to fulfilling this season.
This is probably the first year where I feel like I have a very good chance of winning one of the majors again. Im playing well, Im striking the ball well, I feel physically very strong and my mental is very good, too., said Singh, who culminated a run of 12 consecutive top-10 finishes ' dating back to last year ' with a win at Pebble Beach.
Im ready for this week, and hopefully in two weeks time Im ready, as well.