Singh Finds Himself at the Head of the Class

By Associated PressApril 5, 2005, 4:00 pm
Vijay Singh's car pulled up in front of the clubhouse at Augusta National, and he knew the routine from there.
 
He climbed the green-carpeted stairs to the Masters champions locker room, a place he has occupied the last five years.

A view from the top is most appropriate for Singh at this Masters.

It is the first major championship where he is the No. 1 player in the world, and don't think he doesn't know it.
 
'I'm pretty comfortable with the position I'm in,' Singh said Tuesday. 'I should be, you know? I don't have any worries. I'm enjoying my game right now. What can be better? I'm here at the Masters, best player in the world right now and ready to go win another one.'

He knows it won't be easy.

Another warm, dry practice round only made the venerable course firmer and faster, especially the greens. These conditions make the margin of error even smaller than it already is. Mike Weir noticed the rough a fraction higher, which figures to take a little more valuable spin off the ball.
 
And that's just the course.

The guys chasing Singh are positioned nicely -- Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson right behind him, a list that includes Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and David Toms also playing well.

'I don't think I'm afraid of anybody out there,' Singh said.

'I just think it's really up to me how I play. If I go out there and start worrying about Tiger or Phil or Ernie, then I'm in the wrong business. I've got to try to figure out how I'm going to play, how I'm going to manage my game, and how I'm going to beat everybody else in the field.'

The focus is on the next three guys behind him in the world ranking.
 
Mickelson is the defending champion and was loaded with confidence when he arrived Monday evening at Augusta National, having won the BellSouth Classic in a four-hole playoff for his third PGA Tour victory of the year. And there's always that green jacket he won last year.

Els is still stung by coming up one shot short of a playoff last year, although he remains confident as ever, and for good reason. He hasn't finished worse than sixth the last five years at Augusta National, including runner-up finishes last year to Mickelson and in 2000 to Singh.
 
'I see the golf course in a new light. I'm excited about this year,' Els said. 'I just feel I can do well here, and that's an exciting feeling to have.'
 
But for all the talk of a Big Four, it starts with No. 1 -- the guy who sits atop the world ranking, and the guy he replaced. Many believe Woods is still the man to beat at the Masters, starting with six-time champion Jack Nicklaus.
 
Woods played nine holes Monday, holing out for eagle with a sand wedge on the ninth, and played a full round on Tuesday as tries to get his game into shape. A victory this year would end his longest drought in the majors -- 10 starts -- and allow him to join Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the only players with at least four green jackets.
 
He isn't anywhere near his level in 1999-2001, when there was question whether anyone else could be No. 1, but it has been good enough for victories this year at Torrey Pines and Doral.
 
'I don't think Tiger has played his best the last year or so,' Nicklaus said. 'He's still obviously the dominant player. I didn't have to play my best to win, and Tiger doesn't have to play his best to win. But when he plays his best, he's going to probably win.'
 
Woods has looked good this year -- at times. But after rallying to beat Mickelson in a thrilling duel at Doral, he lost control of his driver at Bay Hill and couldn't make a putt at The Players Championship, finishing out of the top 20 in consecutive weeks for the first time in four years.

Still, it beats where he was a year ago.

Woods was just embarking on swing changes with Hank Haney, and he had his worst performance ever in the Masters by shooting 2-over 290, 11 shots out of the lead.

'Last year I was just getting started with the changes,' Woods said. 'And this year, I'm just putting the finishing touches on the changes. So, two different scenarios. Last year, I was just hoping to put myself in contention with a short game and putting. This year, I know the ball-striking is there. That's a big difference.'

On trophies alone, Singh is the least accomplished of the so-called Big Four. His only victory came in the Sony Open in January, when he birdied the par-5 18th hole to beat Els by one shot.
 
But the bigger picture reveals a guy who knows where every shot is going, and who is rarely far from the lead. When the other stars vanished at The Players Championship, Singh was making a move on the leaders until a late lapse on the greens. He blew chances to win at the Honda Classic and Bay Hill Invitational.

But he was there. And as Woods is fond of saying, giving yourself a chance is the first step toward winning.

And that's what Singh has done more than anyone else, which explains his perch atop the world ranking.
 
'I think it's good to be No. 1, but you've got to know what your directions are,' Singh said. 'And coming over here, my direction is not to keep the No. 1 spot, but to win a major, win the Masters. That's important.'
 
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    Goal for new world No. 1 Koepka: Stay healthy

    By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 1:38 pm

    Last season Brooks Koepka bagged a pair of majors en route to the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award. He started the new wraparound season with an emphatic win at the CJ Cup to reach world No. 1 for the first time.

    But amid the best form of his career, Koepka has a simple goal in mind as he gets ready to turn his attention to the new year.

    "Stay healthy," Koepka told reporters. "That's been the big thing. I need to be healthy to be able to play all these events, play all the majors."

    Koepka's breakthrough year comes despite the fact that he missed four months in the spring, including the Masters, while recovering from a wrist injury. He hit the ground running once he returned, with strong finishes at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial preceding wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

    Now Koepka has added a third trophy after cruising to a four-shot win in South Korea on Sunday that allowed him to move past Dustin Johnson at world No. 1.

    "I'm 1-for-1 this year, which is nice," Koepka joked about his undefeated record in the new wraparound season.

    Koepka will be in the field next week in China for the WGC-HSBC Champions before putting the clubs on the shelf. With Justin Thomas paving the way by making the goal-setting process more public in recent years, Koepka explained that even after summiting the world rankings he plans to wait until 2019 to adjust his expectations for himself.

    "I keep the same goals through the calendar year," Koepka said. "On Jan. 1 I go to the beach in the morning and go write down my goals and figure them out for the calendar year, but I just need to finish this year off. I've got next week and I would like to, coming out the first week as No. 1, I'd like to play well."

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    Birdie binge for Woodland comes up short at CJ Cup

    By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 12:52 pm

    Gary Woodland mounted an impressive rally at the CJ Cup, but in the end even 11 birdies weren't enough to catch Brooks Koepka.

    Woodland started the final round in South Korea five shots behind the new world No. 1, but he made the biggest move of the day amid chilly conditions on Jeju Island. With six birdies over his first nine holes, including four in a row on Nos. 6-9, he briefly caught Koepka at the top of the leaderboard.

    But Woodland bogeyed No. 10, and even with five more birdies coming home to finish a 9-under 63 he still finished alone in second, four shots behind Koepka who closed with a bogey-free 29 to put the trophy out of reach.

    "Yesterday I didn't get any putts to go in, and today I saw a lot of putts go in," Woodland told reporters. "Brooks with the lead, not much fazes him. So you knew you had to make a lot of birdies, and I made a lot today. But I was just too far behind."

    It's the second straight strong performance from Woodland to start the new wraparound season, as he tied for fifth at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia after holding a share of the 54-hole lead. A closing 63 would have gone a long way last week, but he was still pleased to be able to make Koepka sweat a little on a day when even the bad holes resulted from good shots.

    "I made two bogeys on the back and I said, 'Be right' on both shots," Woodland said. "I was just maybe a little too amped up, a little excited. I hit them both perfect. All in all, I would have liked for a couple more putts to go in yesterday and been a little closer going into today."

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    Kang (69) wins Buick LPGA Shanghai by two

    By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:11 am

    SHANGHAI - Danielle Kang shot a 3-under 69 on Sunday to win the LPGA Shanghai by two strokes for her second career title.

    Kang, who started the final round one stroke off the lead, offset a lone bogey on the par-5 fourth hole with four birdies after the turn to finish at 13-under 275 and hold off a late charge by Lydia Ko, who had the day's lowest score of 66.

    ''I hope I win more,'' Kang said. ''I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.''

    Ko, who had seven birdies and a lone bogey, tied for second at 11 under with a group of seven players that included Brittany Altomare (71), Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and overnight co-leader Sei Young Kim (72).


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    Carlota Ciganda, who also held a share of the lead after the third round, shot a 73 to fall into a tie for ninth with Bronte Law and local favorite Lu Liu.

    Paula Creamer carded three birdies against a pair of bogeys for a 71 to finish in sole possession of 12th place.

    The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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    New world No. 1 Koepka already wants more

    By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 8:48 am

    If there is a knock on Brooks Koepka, it’s that he’s a little too cool.

    Gary Woodland, who threw 11 birdies at Koepka on Sunday and still finished four shots back, inadvertently captured that exact sentiment after Saturday's third round.

    “You know," he said, "Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much."

    In context, Woodland meant that there was little anyone in the field could do to rattle the 54-hole leader. (He proved himself right, by the way.)

    And out of context, the comment speaks to the general narrative surrounding Koepka. That he’s just detached enough for fans to have trouble attaching themselves to him. That he’s just a jock here to cash checks and collect trophies, to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

    But for a few moments Sunday in South Korea, it became clear that Brooks Koepka does care. Crouched on the 72nd green with some time to stop and think as Ian Poulter lagged a bit behind, Koepka finally let a moment get to him. Cameras caught the three-time major champion appearing unusually emotional.

    Of course, less than a minute later, those same cameras caught him yawning. The contrast was almost too perfect. It was as if he knew he had just been found out and needed to snap back into character – which he did.

    He promptly poured in an eagle putt to cap off a final-round 64, to win the CJ Cup by four, and to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.


    Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

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    “To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid,” Koepka said on the 18th green, moments after closing out his fifth PGA Tour victory and third this year. “I don't think this one's going to sink in.”

    What is beginning to sink in is that Koepka now unequivocally belongs in the conversation, the one golf fans and analysts have been having over and over since Tiger Woods fell from golf's greatest heights.

    Who’s the best at their best?

    In the two years between his first PGA Tour win and his first U.S. Open victory, Koepka was touted as having the kind of talent to compete with the game's elites. It took a little while for him to get here, but Koepka has taken over as the latest player to look like he’ll never lose again. Just as it was for Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas before him, this is Koepka's moment. This is his run of dominance.

    It’s a run that will have to end at some point. Every one of the guys just mentioned did cool off eventually. Koepka will, too. Maybe it will be fatigue, maybe it will be injury, and maybe it’ll just be golf. This talent pool is simply too deep for anyone to remain on top for too long.

    But what Koepka has done this year – in defending his U.S. Open title, in staring down Tiger at the PGA, in claiming the Player of the Year Award, in ascending to the top of the world rankings – is put his name at the forefront of the conversation. If he was unappreciated at times before, those days are behind him. He's already accomplished too much, proven himself too good to be overlooked any longer.

    And he’s far from done.

    “For me, I just need to keep winning,” the new world No. 1 said Sunday. “I feel like to win a few more regular Tour events and then keep adding majors. I feel like my game's set up for that. I've gotten so much confidence off winning those majors where, it's incredible, every time I tee it up, I feel like I really have a good chance to win whether I have my A-game or not. It's something I'm so excited [about] right now, you have no idea. I just can't wait to go play again.”