Forty with a Bullet Vijay Singh, a winner in Phoenix, is getting better, not older

February 03, 2003

Vijay Singh is the Diane Lane of the PGA Tour--the older he gets,
the better he looks. Singh turns 40 in a couple of weeks, and
when he says, "I feel my best golf is ahead of me," it's not a
boast, but a warning. On Sunday he blew away the competition at
the Phoenix Open with an overpowering eight-under 63, but it was
just another day at the office for the hardestworking man in
golf.

Singh has been a force on Tour since 1993, when he was named
rookie of the year, though that was a bit of a misnomer since he
was already 30 years old and had won in Germany, Italy, Malaysia,
Morocco, Nigeria, Spain, Sweden and Zimbabwe. In the years that
followed, this international man of mystery has given us
consistently brilliant golf, and little else. In an age when the
boundary between sports and entertainment is increasingly
blurred, and in a sport that thrives on the cult of personality,
Singh almost defiantly refuses to play to the public. As a result
he has become the most underrated player in the game, even though
he's fourth in the World Ranking. Maybe he refrains from offering
sound bites because he's comfortable allowing his record to speak
for itself.

Since Tiger Woods's epochal victory at the 1997 Masters, only
three other players have won more than one major--Ernie Els, Mark
O'Meara and Singh. The Phoenix Open was Singh's 12th victory on
Tour, and he's won every year since '97, except in 2001, and in
some ways that season was the truest testament to his dazzling
consistency, as he led the Tour with 14 top 10 finishes and ended
up fourth on the money list. For five years running he has been
among the Tour's top five money earners, all the while enjoying
an international success that is rivaled only by Els's and
Woods's.

Singh's accomplishments may not have captured the public's
imagination, but he commands respect from his peers. Heading into
the final round at Phoenix he was tied for fourth, two shots back
of Harrison Frazar, one behind John Huston and Tim Petrovic, yet
after Singh birdied five of the first six holes, the rest of the
field seemed to concede him the victory. "You expect great
players to shoot great rounds on Sunday," Petrovic said. "That's
what they do."

Of his playing partner's roaring start, Kirk Triplett said, "It's
not hard to be aggressive when you're driving it 350 yards on
every hole and all you've got left is a sand wedge." Singh has
always possessed one of golf's most overwhelming power games. On
Sunday evening he explained his victory by saying, "I putted
quite nicely for a change."

Singh did have eight one-putts while shooting 29 on the front
nine, but that was not exactly a fluke. He may publicly obsess
over his work on the greens, but last year he ranked a
respectable 35th in putting average, and you don't win a green
jacket unless you can roll your rock.

Singh has enjoyed continued success at the Masters since his
victory in 2000, finishing seventh last year when the longer,
tougher course was unveiled. He figures to be a factor again this
year and beyond. Singh has said that his goal is to win at least
two more majors, and there is no reason to think this aging
warrior will run out of time. On Sunday evening he summarized why
his future is so bright. "Good swing, I'm in good shape, and with
the equipment we have now, you can play forever."

TRUST ME

Annika Sorenstam has no hope of contending in a PGA Tour event.
She doesn't spin the ball enough to hold the circuit's extreme
greens--especially as she will be hitting long irons or woods
into many of them--and her unimaginative short game will be
exposed under the more exacting conditions.

O. B.

Phil Mickelson is among the Tour leaders in dispensing
autographs, but following the final round of the Phoenix Open,
he beat a hasty retreat from the TPC of Scottsdale. "My plane
is leaving in 15 minutes," Mickelson said moments after a
closing 64 that would leave him tied for ninth place. His
destination? The Super Bowl, which was being played in his
hometown of San Diego. No word on the size of his wager.

More Mickelson: The noted know-it-all explained his
considerable paunch by saying, "Just genetics. I've got
subcutaneous fat. There's nothing I can do about it. It just
lies underneath the skin as opposed to underneath the muscle.
And, as long as I feel better and get stronger, then I can't
really worry about, you know, body fat."

How are LPGA players spending their long off-season? Watching
golf, apparently. Natalie Gulbis, Grace Park and Marcy Newton
were spotted in the gallery at the Phoenix Open, as was Pat
Hurst, who followed Scott McCarron, a friend and former teammate
at the mixed-team JCPenney Classic. Says McCarron, "It's more
fun to keep up with the other tours when you know the players.
Every time I look in the paper, I check to see how she's doing,
and I'm sure she does the same with me."

Clint Begay recently parted ways with his girlfriend, LPGA
standout Dorothy Delasin, but he has found another steady
relationship--caddying for older brother Notah. He will take
over the bag from Rusty Uresti, Omar's older brother, once the
Tour reaches Florida.

The long-term health of the PGA Merchandise Show remains in
question, but event organizers hit a home run on Jan. 22 with
the inaugural Demo Day. An estimated 3,000 club pros and media
members attended, pounding more than a quarter-million balls
with clubs provided by 50 manufacturers.

Vijay Singh's victory in Phoenix marked the third straight week
that a major-championship winner has finished atop the field.
The last time that happened in the first three Tour events of
the year? In 1963, when Arnold Palmer (L.A. Open), Gary Player
(San Diego Open Invitational) and Billy Casper (Bing Crosby
National Pro-Am) hit the trifecta.

Eye-popping stat of the week: The field averaged 301.3 yards
per drive during the Phoenix Open.

THE POLL
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM

THIS WEEK: Should women be allowed to play in PGA Tour events?

LAST POLL: Who is the best player in the world under 25: Aaron
Baddeley, Sergio Garcia, Charles Howell or Adam Scott?

Baddeley.........11% Garcia........57%

Howell............27% Scott..........5%

--Based on 3,101 responses to our informal survey

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DARREN CARROLL [INSIDE COVER] Power Play Vijay Singh Is a Smash Hit at the Phoenix Open G9 LONG DIVISION Singh averaged almost 320 yards off the tee during his three-shot win. COLOR PHOTO: JASON BABYAK/AP NUMBERS GAME Singh's scorching front-nine 29 propelled him to his12th Tour victory. COLOR PHOTO: HARRY HOW/GETTY IMAGES (LEFT) SIGN BOY A harried Mickelson had to jet on Super Sunday.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)