Singh Serious About No 1 Ranking
Five strokes behind with five holes to play in the Mercedes Championships, no one counted him out -- least of all Stuart Appleby, the player who seemingly had a firm grip on the trophy.
'One guy you have to show massive respect to,' is how Appleby described him.
That used to be only one player: Tiger Woods.
Nowadays, it's Vijay Singh.
All it took was his birdie putt on No. 14 for Appleby to realize the hottest player in golf was on the verge of a big rally, and Singh again was up to the task.
He birdied the next two holes, neither of them easy putts, then hit his approach right over the flag on No. 17. His 15-foot birdie putt grazed the left side of the cup, and that appeared to end his hopes of winning.
Needing an eagle to have any chance at a playoff, Singh rapped a 100-foot putt, and the gallery roared in anticipation as it neared the hole, turning away at the last minute. Appleby held on for a one-shot victory.
'It looked good for a long time,' Singh said.
The same could be said for the 40-year-old Fijian.
While his putter cost him the tournament -- Singh needs both hands to count the number of birdie putts he missed inside 12 feet during the week -- the season-opening Mercedes Championships showed Singh is serious about his intentions of replacing Woods at No. 1 in the world.
'There's no reason why he can't,' Appleby said.
Mathematically, it probably won't happen this year. Singh has played better than Woods over the last six months, but his best season on the PGA Tour (four victories) would be considered a slump for Woods.
Still, Singh is shaping up as a worthy adversary.
His runner-up finish at Kapalua was the ninth straight time Singh has finished among the top six on the PGA Tour, dating to the PGA Championship in August.
'If that's his drive and that's his goal, we've seen what he can do when he sets his mind to something,' Appleby said. 'What I saw late last year was only typical of what I knew he could do. There's nothing surprising about it. If what he wants to do is climb and claw his way up to the top ... he's willing to sacrifice whatever he's got to do to get there.'
Singh will play three more times before Woods turns up on the PGA Tour again.
He cleaned out his locker and headed for Honolulu and the Sony Open this week. Singh is the defending champion at the Phoenix Open, then goes to Pebble Beach, a tournament where he always plays well.
Singh came up one shot short at Kapalua, although no one hit the ball better over four days in windy conditions on the Plantation course.
The only setback was a familiar problem -- putting.
Singh had seven three-putts over four rounds, and failed to put any pressure on Appleby over the first nine holes when he fell six shots behind and twice had three-putt bogeys.
'I played the front nine in 2 over, and you can't do that,' Singh said. 'I had a lot of chances.'
Singh suspected that might be the case.
He switched to the belly putter -- the grip anchors against the lower stomach -- and had his best year, then started tinkering with a conventional-sized putter during the practice rounds at Kapalua.
While he has developed a classic swing that at times is flawless -- Singh eliminated the pull-hook, the shot that once cost him tournaments when he was in contention -- his putting remains a work in progress.
'Putting is always my problem,' Singh said. 'Not a problem. I'm not a bad putter. I'm just not a great putter. Great putters win a lot more tournaments.'
Woods is a great putter.
He didn't make enough of them at Kapalua, missing a couple of them inside 4 feet. Still, his short game and course management is what separates him from the rest of the PGA Tour.
Woods, 28, already has won 39 times (eight of them majors), and his tie for fourth at the Mercedes made him the first golfer to surpass $40 million for his career.
Singh moved into second place at just over $26.4 million.
It is hard to imagine a leaderboard without Singh's name somewhere near the top on Sunday afternoon. Confidence is the most powerful drug in golf, and Singh is loaded with it.
He is No. 2 in the world, although he remains far behind Woods in the complicated, points-based system.
But just like the final five holes at Kapalua, he won't go away without putting up a fight.
And chances are, he'll be the guy Woods has to catch when the No. 1 player returns to the PGA Tour next month at the Buick Invitational.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Ball headed O.B., Stone (68) gets huge break
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brandon Stone knew it when he hit it.
“I knew I hit it out of bounds,” the South African said following his opening round in the 147th Open Championship.
Stone’s second shot on the par-4 18th, from the left fescue, was pulled into the grandstands, which are marked as O.B. But instead of settling in with the crowd, the ball ricocheted back towards the green and nearly onto the putting surface.
Stone made his par and walked away with a 3-under 68, two shots off the early lead.
“I really didn’t put a good swing on it, bad contact and it just came out way left,” Stone said. “I feel so sorry for the person I managed to catch on the forehead there, but got a lucky break.
“When you get breaks like that you know you’re going to have good weeks.”
It’s been more than just good luck recently for Stone. He shot 60 in the final round – missing a 9-foot birdie putt for the first 59 in European Tour history – to win last week’s Scottish Open. It was his third career win on the circuit and first since 2016. It was also just his first top-10 of the season.
“A testament to a different mental approach and probably the change in putter,” said Stone, who added that he switched to a new Ping Anser blade model last week.
“I’ve been putting, probably, the best I have in my entire life.”
This marks Stone’s sixth start in a major championship, with his best finish a tie for 35th in last year’s U.S. Open. He has a missed cut and a T-70 in two prior Open Championships.
Kang on cheating allegation: 'I did the right thing'
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three weeks after his playing partner claimed that he “cheated,” taking an improper drop at the Quicken Loans National, Sung Kang insisted Thursday that he did nothing wrong.
Joel Dahmen tweeted that Kang cheated after a lengthy dispute about where his ball had last crossed the line of a hazard. A PGA Tour official ruled in Kang’s favor. Kang made par on the hole, shot 64 and earned one of the available spots in the Open Championship.
Kang didn’t learn of the controversy until the next day, when he received an email from a PGA Tour communications official seeking comment. He researched online what the furor was about, then issued a brief statement through the Tour (which added its own statement, saying that there was “no clear evidence” to suggest that Kang dropped incorrectly).
Kang said he tried to clear the air with Dahmen before the first round of last week’s John Deere Classic, but they never had the opportunity to discuss their differences.
“I followed the rules official and I think I did the right thing,” Kang told a handful of reporters Thursday following his opening round at Carnoustie, where he shot a 2-under 69 to sit three shots off the early lead.
Kang said he was hesitant to discuss the incident with reporters, because he said there clearly was a difference in opinions. He said he’d already told his side to South Korean news outlets but that “whatever I say, some people are going to trust it and some people are not going to trust it. Then I’ve got to think about it more and more when it’s not going to help my golf game.”
“I really want to say a lot of things about it, the truth about what happened,” he added, “but I’m not going to say anything.”
Kang said that he wouldn’t alter his approach when dealing with rulings in the future.
“No. Why?” he said. “I did the right thing. There’s no point in changing.”
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Kisner (67) enjoying 'frat' life, soccer matches with Jordan and Co.
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The frat house tradition continued this year at The Open, with a group of seven high-profile Americans rooming together for the week, including early first-round leader Kevin Kisner.
Kisner explained after his opening 5-under 66 that the group – which includes Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler – has spent the week talking about how demanding Carnoustie is playing and enjoying the summer weather.
“We're out there playing soccer at night and hanging out,” he said.
To be clear, this isn’t a proper soccer match, but instead a penalty-kick situation with all but one player taking turns trying to score.
“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”
Although Kisner said he’s always impressed with the athletic prowess of other players, Spieth has proven himself particularly adept on the impromptu pitch.
“Jordan scored when Duf tripped, it was hilarious,” Kisner smiled. “[Spieth] is good until he sends it over the goal four houses over, and we've got to go knock on a neighbor’s door for the soccer ball.”
The group is actually staying in two local houses that are next to each other, one with a large enough back yard and a soccer net, but perhaps not enough soccer balls.
“We’re going to have to Amazon Prime a couple new balls to replace the ones we lost,” Kisner said.