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Singh Is Enjoying the View From Top

World No. 1 Is Content With His Game, Life

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 6, 2005; Page D03

AUGUSTA, Ga., April 5 -- Newsflash from Augusta National: Vijay Singh said Tuesday that he takes a day off from golf on many Mondays, doesn't go to the gym, doesn't beat balls at the practice range until the sun goes down. And this just in: Last week, the No. 1 player in the world didn't touch a club Tuesday or Wednesday after finishing 12th in the Players Championship, and spent only two hours a day practicing the next four days before heading here to play in the Masters.

Two hours a day? Has the man with a well-earned reputation as the hardest-working player in the game suddenly gone soft? Have all those long, flowing swings taken for so many years on driving ranges and golf courses around the world, with such elegant form and perfect tempo, finally taken their toll on his 42-year-old body?

Vijay Singh enjoys more things these days, including practice rounds like he took part in Tuesday at Augusta National. (Shaun Best - Reuters)

"You know, waking up in the morning is a little bit harder," Singh said. "You need to go out there and warm up and do your routine. I find it very difficult if I don't; it takes me longer to loosen up, things like that. It's going to get harder on me in the next five, six years if I don't keep up on what I'm doing."

Following a spectacular 2004 season in which he won nine PGA Tour events, replacing Tiger Woods as the leading money earner and player of the year, Singh is showing no sign of slacking off. He's just a bit older, a little wiser, slightly more media-friendly, and perhaps even a touch less manic about the game he's played since growing up not far from the Fiji golf club where his father first taught him the basics of the game.

Singh won the Sony in Hawaii and easily could have three more wins if not for a missed four-foot putt in a playoff with Padraig Harrington three weeks ago at the Honda Classic and a shot in the water on the 72nd hole at Bay Hill a week later. He also was runner-up by a stroke in the season-opening Mercedes, and finished third at Doral, moving up the leader board when he began his final round with four straight birdies and getting himself in contention on the day Woods beat Phil Mickelson by a shot in one of the most riveting final rounds of this or any other season.

Most of all, Singh seems thoroughly delighted with both his life and his game as he attempts to win his second Masters and fourth major championship. He's third on tour in scoring, averaging 69.45 strokes per round, seventh in greens in regulation and second in the overall tour ranking. Never a great putter, he actually is putting better than he ever has in recent years, thanks to a practice green he had installed at his oceanfront home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

"I'm content with my game," he said. "I played [Augusta National] Monday. The golf course is in great shape. The greens are as fast as I've ever putted on them. The golf course is playing just perfect. If the conditions stay the same [some rain is in the Thursday forecast], I have a very, very good chance" to win.

Singh also has a very good chance of keeping his No. 1 ranking, just ahead of Woods, as long as he keeps methodically posting top 10 finishes and more than occasional victories.

"Two years ago, I really started to play well, and to be fair, I always thought I was one of the best players in the world," he said. "I thought on any given day, if I'm playing good, I can beat anyone. If you think that way, you're already on top, and that's what I thought all the time."

And now that he's officially on top, he's loving the ride, despite countless bumps in the road over the course of a 20-year around-the-world odyssey, including early allegations of cheating on his scorecard as a 20-year-old playing in Asia. He has always denied those allegations, which got him suspended from that tour, and there has never been even a whiff of such wrongdoing since he joined the European Tour in 1989, or the PGA Tour, where he's played since 1996.

"I'm pretty comfortable with the position I'm in," he said. "I should be, you know. I don't have any worries. I'm enjoying my game right now. What can be better? I'm here at the Masters, best player in the world right now and ready to go win another one. I've had a great start to the season this year. I can't be any happier. I think I have a better relationship with you guys [in the media], I don't know."

Singh has not always been the game's most accessible superstar, and he still has his moments. After blowing the playoff at the Honda, then finishing runner-up at Bay Hill a week later, he left the course without commenting, a violation of the tour's unwritten policy that the runner-up in any event has an obligation to show up in the press tent. At Doral, when Woods prevailed and briefly regained the No. 1 ranking, Singh also was a no-show.

But Tuesday, Singh couldn't have been more charming, especially when he talked about his status as the No. 1 player in the world.

"People recognize you're number one by winning golf tournaments," he said. "I think it's good to be number one, but you've got to know what your directions are, and my direction is not to keep the number one spot, but to win a major, win the Masters, that's important. I love being number one, there's no hiding that. I mean, that's the biggest achievement of anyone's career. I'm going to try to win tournaments, and try to keep this, so we'll see what happens."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company