Vijay Singh captures
second major title
Vijay Singh once found refuge
in the remote rain forests of Borneo. Today at The Masters, he took his place
among the stars.
First came an early charge
from Tiger Woods, then a relentless challenge from David Duval. In the end, Singh
calmly held off Ernie Els to complete an improbable journey that brought him
his second major championship in three years.
"This is something I think
you can't beat," Singh said shortly after slipping a size 46 green jacket over
his broad shoulders.
No one knows better than
Banished from two tours,
he started his comeback in 1985 by taking a club pro job at Keningau Club, where
he toiled for $160 a month and pounded balls in every free moment. He lived in
a one-bedroom apartment and had no idea how he was going to make his way back
to big-time golf, let alone Augusta National.
"It was a struggle, but
it was a peaceful struggle," said the 37-year-old Fiji native. "I wouldn't swap
that for now."
Now, he has as many majors
as Woods and Els. He carved out a place alongside Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and
Jack Nicklaus, names he knew only from the videotapes he watched of past Masters.
"We didn't have live TV
in Fiji," he said.
The tiny South Pacific
country has a reason to celebrate now.
Singh rolled in an 18-foot
birdie putt on the last hole for a 3-under 69, kissed the ball as he removed
it from the cup and embraced his family. His 9-year-old son, Qass, had taped
a message to his bag that said, "Papa, Trust Your Swing!"
He did, following those
directions better than anyone else.
Singh finished with a three-stroke
victory over Els, $828,000 for his ninth career PGA Tour victory and another
major that validates him as one of the game's top players.
"Winning this one gives
me confidence that I can win a lot more," Singh said.
Els, a two-time U.S. Open
champion, couldn't get a birdie putt to fall on the last three holes and was
The biggest threat came
from Duval, in contention on the back nine Sunday at Augusta for the third straight
year. His dreams died with a risky shot that wound up in Rae's Creek for a bogey
on the par-5 13th, the easiest hole at Augusta.
Duval had a 70 and finished
third along with Loren Roberts.
Woods, trying to pull off
the greatest 36-hole comeback in Masters history, got within three of the lead
but played even-par on the back and finished fifth, six strokes back.
"I was so focused on what
I was doing," Singh said. "It meant a lot."
And it showed when last
year's winner, Jose Maria Olazabal, helped him slip into the coveted green jacket.
"It feels great," a beaming
Singh played tours on five
continents and was banned from two of them, one because of allegations that he
doctored his scorecard to miss the cut. He has long denied the charge, but it
has haunted him throughout his career.
"I don't think anyone should
be surprised that Vijay Singh won this golf tournament," Duval said. "He's a
He proved it on the back
nine at Augusta, where so many Masters are decided. For Singh, Sunday morning
was just as critical as Sunday afternoon.
With frost melting into
dew, he returned to the course to complete his third round and made two critical
par putts that enabled him to maintain his three-stroke cushion over Duval.
That paid dividends later
in the day, when Singh managed to escape danger twice without losing his lead.
Clinging to a two-stroke
lead over Duval, Singh hit his approach into the pond left of the 11th green.
He was able to drop close to the green, hit a delicate chip to 4 feet and dropped
only one shot by making the putt.
Then on the par-3 12th,
he hit over the green into the most daunting bunker at Augusta. Faced with a
shot that sloped down the green toward more trouble, he blasted out to 2 feet
-- the same shot Olazabal pulled off to win last year.
Duval, who lives near Singh
in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was still poised to win his first major championship
until a mistake on the 13th.
"I played perfectly well
enough to win the golf tournament," Duval said, but, "the day did not turn out
like I wanted."
Ditto for Els, the 30-year-old
South African who got word Saturday that his buddy had won a $2 million lottery
and thought it might be a good omen.
"I felt like I was going
to win the tournament when I stepped on the first tee," Els said. "I was really
trying to push too hard."
Woods, an overwhelming
favourite at the start of the week, wound up missing key shots on the par 5s.
He still needs five more green jackets to catch Jack Nicklaus.
"I knew going into this
week that every time I play, this game is very fickle," Woods said. "Even though
I didn't get off to a good start Thursday, I gave myself a chance. I got back
into the tournament and had a chance on Sunday."
Woods, who opened with
a 75 and was nine strokes back after two days, got the deficit down to three
strokes early and seemed poised to pounce.
Singh was in the fairway,
waiting for the group ahead to tee off on No. 4, when he glanced up at the large
white leaderboard in time to see another birdie posted for Woods. Singh proceeded
to hit long and three-putt from 50 feet off the fringe.
Woods went out in 33. He
was 4-under for the tournament and slowly gaining momentum for the kind of back-nine
charge that have become so famous at Augusta.
But Singh's biggest threat
was Duval. He made a couple of 8-foot putts early to close a three-stroke deficit
to one, then really began to apply the pressure with birdie putts from 12 feet
on No. 6, a good pitch to 2 feet on the par-5 eighth, and a sliding 6-footer
on No. 9.
What did that get him?
Singh matched every birdie
and answered every great approach by Duval with one of his own -- and took that
slim lead to the back nine.
Woods ran out of chances.
There were too few fist
pumps and too many sighs, none louder than when his 4-foot birdie putt on the
par-5 13th turned away. Only two Masters champions since 1992 have failed to
birdie the hole on Sunday, and it was the first time all week that Woods had
to settle for par.
It could have worse.
Duval was exactly where
he had planned on being for the past seven months. That's when he started pounding
his body into shape with heavy lifting, lots of running and a disciplined diet.
All he wanted was a chance on the back nine of Augusta come Sunday, and here
With one bad decision,
and a bad swing to match, there he went.
Singh never gave him or
anyone else a chance. Despite a three-putt bogey on the 16th, he was always in
the fairway, always on the green.