Singh Tracking Tiger
The 41-year-old Fijian is no longer simply a solid player reaping the fruits of his incredible labor, rather a legitimate threat to Tiger Woods. And the biggest difference of all is the increasingly smaller margin between No. 1 and No. 2 in the world.
Singh's methodical victory at the rain-delayed Houston Open was his second of the PGA Tour season and the fourth in his last 16 tournaments, moving him within 2.58 points of Woods in the world ranking released Tuesday.
In October, Singh said he would give himself five good years to see if he could overtake Woods.
At this rate, it could happen in five months.
'If I keep playing like I did this weekend, I think I have a very good chance,' Singh said after a 69-68 finish at Redstone Golf Club for a two-shot victory over Scott Hoch.
Not many would have picked Singh as the guy most likely to challenge Woods.
A year ago, Singh was among a half-dozen guys who got off to a good start. In his first 11 tournaments, Singh won in Phoenix and Dallas, had six top 10s, missed one cut and tied for sixth in the Masters. Throw out the cut and his average finish was 10th.
This year is a carbon copy.
Singh has won twice in 11 starts, has six top 10s, one missed cut and tied for sixth at Augusta National. Throw out the cut, and his average finish is 11th.
Why the change in perception?
As others around him - Mike Weir, Ernie Els, Davis Love III and Woods - peeled off, Singh barreled through the year on a mission. He set the bar high and scaled it with ease, reeling off eight top 10s to close out the season, including two victories, two runner-up finishes and nothing worse than a tie for sixth.
He said he wanted to win the money title and he did, ending Woods' four-year reign.
'He's an excellent player, one of our best,' Hoch said. 'Last year, he was playing better than anybody when the season was over.'
No one can doubt the gap is shrinking. The 2.58 points separating Singh from Woods is still significant, but it is the smallest margin since the ranking system was tweaked 20 months ago.
The question is whether Singh, Els and Phil Mickelson are getting better - or if Woods is getting worse.
The answer lies somewhere in between.
Woods successfully defended his title at the Match Play Championship, a testament to his mind and his grit to survive six matches in five days. But in five other PGA Tour events he has played this year, Woods has fared worse than he did in 2003. Going for a fifth straight win at Bay Hill, he tied for 46th. Trying to prove that his game is not far off, he tied for 22nd at the Masters, his lowest finish at Augusta National as a pro.
Mickelson is the only other two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year, and he gets major bonus points for winning the Masters with a 31 on the back nine and five birdies over his final seven holes.
Els has won twice around the world: a repeat playoff victory at the Sony Open in Honolulu, and a career-best 60 at Royal Melbourne, one of the classiest courses in the world, while winning the Heineken Classic.
Still, no player has more closely resembled Woods than Singh.
No one is ever surprised to see him contending on the weekend. Even when Singh is seemingly out of contention, his name somehow winds up on the leaderboard Sunday afternoon. And give him a 54-hole lead, and he is more likely to have brunch with the media than allow someone else to win.
The Houston Open was the sixth consecutive time he has won with at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
How long he can keep this up remains to be seen, although the secret to his longevity was evident Monday afternoon after collecting his 17th career victory. Walking off the 18th green, Singh smiled broadly and gave a bear hug to his trainer, Joey Diovisalvi, whom he calls the backbone of his success.
'He's pushed me so hard the last two years,' Singh said earlier this season. 'He's in the gym with me in the mornings and in the evenings, every day, two times a day, five or six days a week.'
Singh believes he can compete at this level for at least five more years. The future has never seemed so close, and the stretch of golf leading into the U.S. Open could go a long way toward defining the size of the gap.
Woods is expected to play next week in the Wachovia Championship, which features a $5.6 million purse and a field that includes Singh and Mickelson. All three, along with Els, plan to be at the Byron Nelson Classic to compete for a $5.8 million purse and ranking points exceeded only by the majors.
Woods keeps insisting his game is not that far off, and he may be right. His game should not be judged on one month.
There are no such questions about Singh.
By now, everyone knows what to expect from him.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Molinari reflects on beating Woods at Ryder Cup, Open
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Francesco Molinari might be a useful resource for the European Ryder Cup team.
He’s already beaten Tiger Woods, head to head, at a Ryder Cup and a major.
Molinari was in the anchor match at the 2012 Ryder Cup when Woods conceded on the final hole to give the Europeans an outright victory in the incredible comeback at Medinah. He said the last hole was a “blur,” and it remains the last Ryder Cup that both Molinari and Woods played.
“I’ve improved a lot as a player since 2012,” said Molinari, who lost his previous singles match against Woods in 2010, 4 and 3, “and I hope to show that on the course this week.”
The proof is the claret jug that he now keeps at home.
To win his first major he needed to not only endure the circus that a Woods group brings, but he needed to outlast the 14-time major champion and a host of other worthy contenders to prevail at Carnoustie.
Reflecting on that momentous day Tuesday, Molinari said he initially was dreading the final-round date with Woods.
“If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t exactly hoping to be paired with Tiger, not because I don’t like to play with him, but because, obviously, the hype and with him being in contention in a major, it’s going to be noisy and it’s going to be a lot of people," he said.
“So the most challenging part was probably that moment when the draw came out, but then I quickly managed to think, You know, whatever. I don’t really care. I’m here to do a job, and they can’t really influence how I do my job.”
To thrive in that situation gave Molinari a lot of confidence – especially heading into a pressure-cooker like the Ryder Cup.
Asked whether it’s more pressure trying to win a major or a Ryder Cup – since he’s now done both – Molinari said: “You won’t believe me, but it’s nowhere near. Carnoustie was nowhere near Medinah or in any matching ways. It’s hard to believe, but it’s probably because you play for a team; you play for a continent in our case, and you know about the tradition and what players have done in the past.”
Woods 25/1 to break Nicklaus' record by age 50
With his victory at the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods crept closer to Sam Snead's all-time PGA Tour wins mark. But he also got fans thinking about whether golf's most famous record is once again in play.
Woods has been stuck on 14 career major titles since the 2008 U.S. Open, although he had a pair of close calls this summer. But now that he's again a winner on Tour, oddsmakers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook created bets on where Woods' career major haul will end up.
The line they drew in the sand? Dec. 30, 2025 - when Woods, now 42, will turn 50 years old.
According to the Westgate, Woods is a -150 favorite to win at least one more major by that time. He's 2/1 to win at least two more, 5/1 to win at least three more and 12/1 to win at least four more. But it'll take five more majors to break Nicklaus' record haul of 18, and the odds on Woods doing that by age 50 are set at 25/1.
There are also odds on Woods' 2019 major prospects, as he's already the betting favorite for the Masters at 9/1. Woods' odds of winning any major next year are listed at +225, while the pessimists can wager -275 that his major victory drought will extend to at least 2020.
There's even a bet for those expecting some serious history: the odds of Woods sweeping all four majors next year at age 43 are 200/1.
All 12 Europeans have history at Le Golf National
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The European team has plenty of experience at Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National, which has been the longtime host of the French Open.
The question this week is whether it’ll matter.
The only American player to compete in this year’s French Open was Justin Thomas. Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Bubba Watson all got a look at Le Golf National before The Open.
Not surprisingly, the European team has a proven track record here – all 12 players have seen the course at some point. Alex Noren won in July. Tommy Fleetwood is a past champion, too. So is European vice captain Graeme McDowell. Francesco Molinari and assistant Lee Westwood also have runners-up here.
“I definitely think it’s a help to us, for sure,” Ian Poulter said. “It’s probably the most-played venue as a Ryder Cup venue for all of the European players that have played. So we definitely have a feel of how this golf course has played in very different weather conditions. I definitely think we have an understanding of how this golf course can play.”
Of course, this setup is no different than what players typically experience as they prepare for a major championship. They’ll play 18 holes each of the next two days, then maybe nine holes on Thursday, as they get a feel for the layout.
“When it’s the best players in the world, and we play on golf courses week-in and week-out where we have to learn a new golf course, it’s difficult to say how much of an advantage it will be,” Fleetwood said. “It can only be a good thing, or it can’t do any harm that we know the course better or that we’ve played it more times.
“Knowledge can only be a good thing. Maybe it’s a little advantage, but it’s the best players in the world that are out here, so it’s not something to look at too much.”
First-tee grandstand 'biggest you'll ever see'
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The first-tee nerves could be even more intense this week at the Ryder Cup.
If only because of the atmosphere.
The grandstand surrounding the first hole at Le Golf National is unlike anything that’s ever been seen at this event – a 6,500-seat behemoth that dwarfs the previous arenas.
“It’s the biggest grandstand you’ll ever see at a golf tournament,” Tommy Fleetwood said.
“It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had to hit that tee shot before,” Ian Poulter said. “When I think back (to my first Ryder Cup) in 2004, the stand is nothing like what we have today. So it really is going to be quite a special moment Friday, and it’s going to be very interesting to see.”
Poulter said it’ll be his job to prepare, as best he can, the team’s rookies for what they’ll experience when the first ball goes in the air Friday morning.
“The No. 1 thing I’ve pictured since the Ryder Cup became a goal is that first tee shot,” Fleetwood said. “But nothing prepares you for the real thing. The grandstand is pretty big – there’s no denying that.
“It’s something that everybody wants in their career, so as nerve-wracking as it is, and whatever those feelings are, everybody wants that in their life. So you just have to take it on and let it all happen.”