Vijay's On The Money Winning the title isn't about cash, it's about taking down Tiger

November 03, 2003

Who would have thought that the PGA Tour player of the year race
would come down to old-fashioned, unadulterated money grubbing?
Prize money hasn't been an accurate measure of a player's worth
since 1987, when the high-dollar Tour Championship was created to
add some Double Jeopardy-type excitement to the end of the
season. Sure, money talks, but what does it say? Vijay Singh
walked away from last week's Funai Classic with a first-place
check for $720,000 and a Tour-best 2003 total of $6,827,507 with
two tournaments left. Tiger Woods, meanwhile, got roughly 300
grand for finishing in a second-place tie with Stewart Cink and
Scott Verplank. That left Woods about $250,000 behind Singh.

Well, whoop-de-do. Singh, trying desperately to end Tiger's
five-year run atop the money list, planned to play this week near
Tampa and next week at the Tour Championship. Woods is skipping
Tampa. So it's more or less a sprint to the finish, though the
contestants are running different races. Tiger has played in 17
tournaments, Vijay in 25.

Granted, it would be no small achievement if Singh were to deny
Woods even one of his postseason entitlements. That's why both
players went at it on Sunday as if they were hungry caddies
playing for lunch money. Tiger's final-round 65 on the Magnolia
course at the Walt Disney World Resort saw him reading putts with
the same intensity he shows on Sunday at the Masters. Singh's
five-under 67 was almost as good, and the flush Fijian clocked
out with a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole. The first thing
out of Singh's mouth when he faced reporters was, "I'm really
happy to take over the money list [lead]."

Winning the money title does not guarantee that you'll get the
Tour players' votes for player of the year. Woods has five Tour
victories in 2003 to Singh's four, and Tiger is a lock to win the
Vardon Trophy for low scoring average for the fifth straight
year. Singh has to hope that his peers will throw him a bone if
for no other reason than that they're tired of watching the 24/7
Tiger Channel.

In golf, alas, politics is sometimes just as important as money.
Singh must recognize this because after his Funai victory he was
halfway conciliatory toward the media, which have treated him
harshly for his ungallant comments about Annika Sorenstam before
the Colonial last May. "I'd like to have a little bit better
relationship with the media," Singh said. "It's just that I don't
think the media is comfortable with me."

Maybe it's because he's so very, very rich. With his win on
Sunday, Singh maintained his third-place standing on the Tour's
career money list. That $25 million doesn't include his winnings
from international tournaments, appearance fees, endorsement
deals, side bets and any loose change he finds under the sofa
cushions.

Singh has earned every penny though. Asked last week why he was
having his career year at 40, he shrugged and said, "Maybe
because I've hit a million balls? And because I've been out there
forever, and maybe because I'm dedicated and want it more."

As for his chances of outearning Woods in '03, he said, "I'm in
the best position....I'm playing one extra tournament. If I win
next week and he wins the week after, he ain't going to beat me."
For his part Woods feigned a lack of interest. "If Vijay has it
wrapped up, so be it," he said after his round on Sunday. "I
think anyone would rather have player of the year than the money
title."

Maybe so, but until this thing is over, you don't want to stand
between either of those guys and an unclaimed Benjamin.
--John Garrity

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG IS HE NO. 1? With four wins and a firm grip on the money title, Singh can make a case for player of the year. COLOR PHOTO: ETTY IMAGES (CUPCAKE) COLOR PHOTO: CORBIS (CLOWN) COLOR PHOTO: JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (KOREAN FAN) COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS COLOR PHOTO: YUN JAI-HYOUNG/AP (PAK)

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EASY COURSE + WEAK FIELD + HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE - CRITICISM =
[SE RI PAK FINISHES 10TH AT A MEN'S EVENT IN SOUTH KOREA]

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)