Golf: Singh's major odyssey is complete

USPGA Championship: Practice pays off for the Fijian who honed his golfing skills in the jungles of Borneo
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The Independent Online
AS COLIN Montgomerie's quest to win a major championship continues, the Scot's travails seem as naught compared to those of Vijay Singh. The 35- year-old Fijian completed an epic odyssey when he beat Steve Stricker by two strokes to win the 80th USPGA Championship at Sahalee on Sunday.

It was Singh's first major championship. "When I was playing all round the world, I never thought I would be here," he said.

Singh has won on most continents around the world. "The strangest place I have played was when I won on sand greens in Nigeria." But that is not the weirdest place Singh's golf has taken him. In the mid-80s Singh was banned from playing for alleged rules violations and spent two years as a club pro in Borneo.

"I was out there in the jungle and hitting balls in 100-degree heat and trying to think what to do next," Singh recalled. "I had to earn some money and go out on tour again. I never thought about coming to America, let along winning a tournament here. My wife and I think back and say, `we have come a long way since then'.

"I am thankful in one sense because it taught me a lot of things. My wife talks about it and says it was the best time of our lives. We didn't have anything to worry about. I would wake up in the morning, give a few lessons and then go and practice. It is not something a lot of golfers have done. It taught me to respect the game a lot more."

If Montgomerie thinks he has struggled with his putter recently, Singh had it worse. He went backwards and forwards between long putters and short putters. A month ago, his wife suggested going back to putting crosshanded, the way his father, an airport worker in Fiji, taught him to putt. "I am surprised I did not do it earlier," Singh said. "I think it is a better way to putt."

He only once three-putted on the humps of Sahalee's greens. His son, Qass, is learning the same method.

Singh is known as one of the hardest workers on the practice range in the game. He was even asked whether he would go and practice on Sunday evening. "Not in this rain," he said, entering into the spirit of the question. His philosophy is that there is always something to work on.

"If it's not the long game, it's the short game or the putting," he said. "I just like to practice and I'm always working on something. You can't go out and play a round of 18 perfect holes. There is always something that you are going to do wrong and you go out there and figure it out."

When he arrived here, Montgomerie admitted he has not given his all in the practice department and he meant to change that. His work on his putting helped for the first two days, but, for the long game, it is a matter of practising the right things. That might mean employing a coach, or even going back to his old mentor, Bill Ferguson, with whom he has not worked for two years.

Montgomerie returns this week to the domain he has ruled for the last five years. His attention now will be on the European money list where he has to overtake Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. The run-in begins in Dublin on Thursday.

Nick Faldo will not be there but he will be putting in a few appearances after the Ryder Cup qualifying starts next month. "That's the goal now," he said. Unless Ben Crenshaw's putting lesson really has helped, he might struggle to qualify.

Singh and Stricker enjoyed an 18-hole duel in the final round on Sunday, with the American only succumbing when he failed to match his opponent's up-and-down from a bunker at the 17th to fall two behind.

Steve Elkington got closest to the twosome to finish three back but Mark O'Meara was two more behind.

O'Meara gave an honourable account of himself as he attempted to win a third major of the season, something that remains unique to Ben Hogan. But of all those who made the cut in all four majors, he finished with the lowest aggregate, followed by Woods.

The statistic backs up Woods' claim that he has become a more consistent player than a year ago. He had three top-10 finishes in the four majors, two more than in '97, but one less victory. "I didn't win one, but three top-10s is not too shabby," said the world No1.

But for the second major running, Woods let slip a first-day lead. More patient he may have been, but his usually high birdie count was down at Sahalee. "Thursday was the only day I hit the ball well. I made a lot of pars, some great pars to hang in there.

"I made physical errors but I never made a mental error and from where I have come from, that's amazing."

VIJAY SINGH: FROM FIJI TO SEATTLE

1963: Born Lautoka, Fiji, on 22 February

Lives: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

Family: Wife Ardena; son Qass Seth

1982: Turned professional

1984: Claimed Malaysian PGA championship

1988: Joint runner-up to Jesper Parnevik at PGA European Tour Qualifying School, graduated on second attempt

1989: Volvo Open champion

1990: Winner of El Bosque Open

1992: Victorious at Turespana Masters and Volvo German Open

1993: Finished fourth in USPGA championship at Inverness. US Tour Rookie of the Year. Sets record for lowest round, 63, in USPGA Championship

1994: Claimed titles at Scandinavian Masters and Lancome Trophy

1995: Won Phoenix Open and Buick Classic in play-offs in US, and Passport Open in South Korea, tied for sixth at the Open

1996: Finished fifth at USPGA Championship at Valhalla

1997: Toyota World Match Play champion. Winner of South African Open, Memorial Tournament and Buick Open, tied for 13th at USPGA championship

1998: Victorious in first major at USPGA Championship near Seattle, the ifth non-American to win the title this decade

US Tour wins: 6

Other wins: 18

FINAL SCORES FROM SAHALEE

US unless stated

271 V Singh (Fiji) 70 66 67 68.

273 S Stricker 69 68 66 70.

274 S Elkington (Aus) 69 69 69 67.

276 N Price (Zim) 70 73 68 65; M O'Meara 69 70 69 68; F Lickliter 68 71 69 68.

277 B Mayfair 73 67 67 70; D Love 70 68 69 70.

278 J Cook 71 68 70 69.

279 K Perry 69 72 70 68; T Woods 66 72 70 71; S Kendall 72 68 68 71.

280 F Couples 74 71 67 68; B Faxon 70 68 74 68; B Tway 69 76 67 68; P Azinger 68 73 70 69; B Glasson 68 74 69 69; S Flesch 75 69 67 69; J Huston 70 71 68 71; R Allenby (Aus) 72 68 69 71.

281 E Els (SA) 72 72 71 66; A Magee 70 68 72 71.

282 P-U Johansson (Swe) 69 74 71 68; F Funk 70 71 71 70; S Gump 68 69 72 73; G Kraft 71 73 65 73.

283 J Sluman 71 73 70 69; H Sutton 72 68 72 71.

284 G Day 68 71 75 70; T Lehman 71 71 70 72; I Woosnam (GB) 70 75 67 72; L Rinker 70 70 71 73; S Hoch 72 69 70 73.

285 P Mickelson 70 70 78 67; B Estes 68 76 69 72; P Goydos 70 70 72 73; R Cochran 69 71 70 75.

286 C Stadler 69 74 71 72; D Waldorf 74 70 70 72.

287 C Franco (Para) 71 70 73 73; J Sindelar 71 71 75 70; J Haas 72 73 73 69; J Durant 75 68 74 70.

288 J Ozaki (Japan) 73 71 75 69; J Maggert 71 73 73 71; S Lowery 76 69 72 71; D Ogrin 73 72 71 72; K Sutherland 74 71 71 72; C Montgomerie (GB) 70 67 77 74; PH Horgan 71 71 72 74; M Calcavecchia 70 73 71 74; D Hart 70 75 69 74; B Andrade 68 77 68 75.

289 N Faldo (GB) 73 71 72 73; S Verplank 71 71 71 76.

290 T Tryba 70 74 76 70; M Brooks 72 73 72 73; B Watts 72 73 72 73; J Carter 71 73 72 74; D Frost (SA) 70 69 76 75; J D Blake 70 72 73 75.

291 T Dodds (Nam) 69 75 75 72; T Byrum 72 71 74 74; O Browne 73 71 71 76.

292 R Karlsson (Swe) 71 73 75 73; S Maruyama (Japan) 68 77 73 74; L Roberts 72 71 74 75.

293 S Leaney (Aus) 72 70 72 79.

294 A Coltart (GB) 70 75 75 74.

295 D Sutherland 77 68 77 73.

296 B Geiberger 73 70 79 74; C Parry (Aus) 70 75 74 77; B Fabel 73 72 73 78.

297 C Perry 73 71 75 78.

298 T Herron 73 70 79 76.

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