Singh Woods at Ease on PGA Eve

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2005 PGA ChampionshipSPRINGFIELD, N.J. ' Tiger Woods ended his pre-tournament interview Tuesday and then engaged in a 20-minute, impromptu gab session with some media types.
 
Vijay Singh started his pre-tournament interview Wednesday with a few one-liners about his public speaking skills, nearly putting the moderator in tears.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has looked focused on the course, but relaxed off of it.
These actions, from these two players, can best be described as unusual ' particularly given the circumstances.
 
Woods never, ever chats casually with reporters ' especially at a major championship ' unless its in the locker room around a few of those he trusts.
 
And while Singhs friends love to point out that he does have a sense of humor, its rare that he actually showcases it to the working press.
 
The top 2 players in the world appear very comfortable and sound quite confident as they get ready to engage in the final major of the season at the 87th PGA Championship.
 
There are, the field list says, 156 men who will be competing on the 7,392-yard, par-70 Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club. There are, however, two who clearly stand above the rest in terms of accomplishment and expectation.
 
The Big Four, which became the Big Five, is now the Big Two.
 
Woods has won four times this season, including the Masters and the British Open. He hasnt had a finish outside the top 3 since missing the cut at the Byron Nelson in May.
 
Singh has also won four tournaments; though, no majors. In his most recent performance, he smoked Woods head-to-head (63 to 70) in the third round at Warwick Hills en route to claiming his third Buick Open title.
 
Tigers campaign is drawing favorable comparisons to that of 2000, the last time he won three majors in a single season. But while it might look like 2000, it doesnt feel that way. Not to Tiger and not to his competitors.
 
I think the atmosphere is nowhere near what it was in 2000, Woods said. I guess from some guys Ive talked to this week, you know, in the media, just the novelty factor is not there anymore; Ive already done it.
 
In 2000, he was a phenomenal player that nobody could touch, said Padraig Harrington. I think now hes still a great player, but I dont think ' hes probably not as untouchable as he was in 2000.
 
There definitely was a perception if he was in the field he was going to win, at that time, Lee Janzen said. I think the perception now is that he is still the guy to beat, but its not ' I dont think guys think its a given that he is going to win.
 
Well, certainly his wins would lead anybody to feel that way, Phil Mickelson said about a 2000 revival. But as a player and a competitor, I dont really subscribe to that.
 
I showed to everybody and to the rest of the world that he can be beatable two months ago, said Michael Campbell. He was favored to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst; I managed to knock him off his pedestal for a week, which is nice.
 
Tiger Woods 2005 is not Tiger Woods 2000. Nor does he want to be. He wants to improve upon that. Become more dominant. Even more untouchable than ever before.
 
I dont want to go back to 2000. I want to become better than that. Thats why I made the (swing) changes, said Woods.
 
People ask me, Are you there yet? No. You never get there. And that's the great thing about it. You can always be better the next day. That's how I look at golf and how I look at life. You can always, always be better.
 
No one has improved more over the first half of this decade than Singh. In less than three years, Singh has won 17 PGA Tour events ' seven more than Woods. He has also in that span topped Tiger in the world rankings, on the money list, and for player of the year. He was elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year.
 
Another difference between now and then: five years ago, Woods was without peer. Today, there is Singh.
 
Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh shared a few laughs early in his press conference, before shifting the tone.
I feel right now Im playing the best golf Ive ever played. To me, Im playing a lot better this year than Ive done last year, said Singh, who won nine times in 2004, including the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
 
Im probably driving the ball much straighter and probably further than I did last year. Im on the same track as last year. I dont know if Im going to do the same thing or not, but you know, I just have to focus on this week and see if I can pull this one off and go from there.
 
Putting not distance, Singh believes, will determine the winner of this event. And both Singh and Woods are quite pleased with their short games at the moment.
 
Just two weeks ago, Singh switched to a mallet-style putter and used a left-hand-low grip. With Woods by his side ' and just one day after Woods had fired 61, Singh made seven birdies over his first nine holes, turning a one-stroke lead into an eight-stroke advantage by days end.
 
Obviously, I was fired up to play with Tiger, Singh said. But I wasnt (under any) pressure at all.
 
Singh and Woods share a rivalry, but not a friendly one. What they do maintain, however, is a mutual regard for one another.
 
How can you not? Woods responded when asked if he respected Singh. What hes done in the game and where he came from; he should be commended. It's not like he was given anything. He went out and earned it.
 
When prompted with the same question about his respect for Woods, Singh replied: Who doesnt? Hes the best player in the golf game right now. Hes been like that for a while. Gosh, if you dont have respect for what hes done, then youre not thinking right.
 
Woods and Singh may feel similarly about one another, but public perception ' and appreciation ' is a different game. While both have their detractors, fans either seem to like or dislike Woods to extremes. Singh has never been embraced as warmly as has Woods, but he has certainly felt the sting. And this he credits to his portrayal in the press.
 
I dont know what I need to do to win you guys. Im not going to beg. Im not going to get down there and get on my knees and say, hey, write good things about me. Im not going to do that, Singh directed toward the media members in attendance.
 
I have not done anything not to win your confidence. Im a player; Im an athlete. I go out there and speak my mind and Im very honest about it. Im not a fake like many guys out here. So you write whatever you want to write, but write what I say, dont mix things over. And thats the way I am.
 
Does he feel underappreciated?
 
In my mind, no, he said. Ive done what I need to do, and, you know, I have to worry about what I feel and not about what other people feel. And I feel great about my game, myself, and what I have done.
 
He also feels great about his chances to win a third career PGA title this week.
 
The guy who putts well is going to win the golf tournament right here, he said.
 
Im really confident with the way Im putting, and I think thats the key to my golf game, is if I start making putt, then Im going to have a good chance of winning tournaments.
 
Woods, a two-time PGA winner (1999, 2000) himself, likes his chances, too. And why not? He seems focused on the course and at ease off of it. At this point in time, he believes he is a better in nearly every aspect of the game than he was five years ago.
 
If there is one thing, though, that hasnt changed since 2000; its his desire to win.
 
The drive is still the same to go out there and win the championship, put myself there and hopefully come out on top, he said. That hasnt changed. Thats still the same.
 
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