Golf: Victory name of Singh's game

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The Independent Online
LONG AFTER the USPGA Championship was switched from a matchplay to a strokeplay format, Vijay Singh, Fiji's foremost golfing export, overcame Steve Stricker in an 18-hole duel at Sahalee. Only Steve Elkington, the 1995 champion, got close to the final twoball with a birdie at the 17th but he bogeyed the last to settle for third place, three behind. Singh dropped only one stroke in his closing 68 to finish on nine under par and win by two from the American.

Over the closing holes, when Singh led by a stroke, both players matched each other shot for shot. Each birdied the 15th from short range and both just missed birdie chances on the next. At the short 17th, where Stricker had found the water to double bogey the hole on Friday, both went into the left-hand bunker. Neither came out particularly close but while Singh holed for par from 15ft, Stricker missed from inside the Fijian to fall two behind.

The American, whose wife Nicki was at home in Wisconsin and is expecting their first child at the end of the month, closed with a 70. But his opponent was guided home by his Scottish caddie, Dave Renwick, who helped Jose Maria Olazabal win the Masters in 1994 and Elkington the USPGA a year later. Five years ago Renwick served time in prison after an accident in France in which passengers in the car he was driving were killed.

"I couldn't have done it without Dave," Singh said. "He kept me calm all day. This has been a dream of mine and I hope some day it will sink in that I am a major champion."

Singh, taught the game by his father, who was an airport worker, has played and won all over the world, graduating from tours in Asia, Africa and Europe to the US circuit. His name in Hindu means "victory". Twice the 35-year-old had come close to lifting the Wanamaker Trophy when he lost final-round leads in 1993 and '96.

Nick Price was the only player to make a dramatic move from the pack, equalling Greg Kraft's course record 65 set on Saturday. But Price started the day at one over par and he could not get past four under after his eagle at the 11th. Mark O'Meara finished on the same score after threatening briefly to become the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three majors in a year.

The Masters and Open champion eagled the second from 50ft and then birdied the fifth but immediately suffered three bogeys in a row. Nor did Davis Love, the defending champion, or Tiger Woods prove a factor, the world No 1 finishing with a 71 to be one under. Or three over for the last three rounds after he led on day one.

While Singh became the 10th player in the past 11 years to make the USPGA his first major title, Colin Montgomerie must have left Sahalee thinking it would be easier to walk up the nearby Mount Rainier backwards than achieve the game's exalted status.

Montgomerie, who was one behind Singh after 36 holes, scored rounds of 77 and 74 over the weekend. He bogeyed yesterday the first after finding a greenside bunker and when he missed his par-saving putt from eight feet, the Montgomerie visage crumpled in resignation.

Further bogeys followed as he went to the turn in 39 and despite birdies at the 10th and 11th, he also bogeyed the 14th and the last for a 74. "There is not a lot I can say," Montgomerie said. "It's very disappointing. I have a lot of thoughts on what happened but they are for me."

Montgomerie thought long and hard after missing the cut at the Open. "I'm not there on Saturdays enough," he said after embarking on extensive preparations for Sahalee. He decided to see a putting specialist and to work harder on the range.

All season, Montgomerie has convinced himself that his putting has not been up to the mark but his long game is in a technical funk. Instead of his old fade, he is either hooking the ball or blocking it right.

Montgomerie has been without a coach for a year and whatever the reasons for his split with his original mentor, Bill Ferguson - and that Ian Woosnam started to use the same coach may have been one of them - he is the man to sort out the Scot's swing. After a wretched opening session at Valderrama in last year's Ryder Cup, Ferguson was called in for emergency aid and Monty never looked back.

Per-Ulrik Johansson was the leading European at two over, while Woosnam was two back after a 72. Nick Faldo finished with a 73 but could not manage a birdie. Remarkably, he did not have one for the last 50 holes of the tournament, since the fourth on Friday, and only managed two all week. But Faldo is seeing some progress. "I know the results have been lousy but I am optimistic," he said. "If I can hit it like that for the rest of the year, I'll be happy."



V Singh 70-66-67-68


S Stricker 69-68-66-70


S Elkington 69-69-69-67


M O'Meara 69-70-69-68; F Lickliter 68-71-69-68; N Price 70-73-68-65


B Mayfair 73-67-67-70; D Love III 70-68-69-70


J Cook 71-68-70-69


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


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


A Magee 70-68-72-71; E Els 72-72-71-66


S Gump 68-69-72-73; P-U Johansson 69-74-71-68; F Funk 70-71-71-70; G Kraft 71-73-65-73


H Sutton 72-68-72-71; J Sluman 71-73-70-69


G Day 68-71-75-70; T Lehman 71-71-70-72; I Woosnam 70-75-67-72; L Rinker 70-70-71-73; S Hoch 72-69-70-73;


R Cochran 69-71-70-75; B Estes 68-76-69-72; P Goydos 70-70-72-73; P Mickelson 70-70-79-67


C Stadler 69-74-71-72; D Waldorf 74-70-70-72


J Sindelar 71-71-75-70; J Haas 72-72-73-69; J Durant 75-68-74-70; C Franco 71-70-73-73


PH Horgan III 71-71-72-74; M Calcavecchia 70-73-71-74; D Hart 70-75-69- 74; K Sutherland 74-71-71-72; C Montgomerie 70-67-77-74; J Ozaki 73-71- 75-69; J Maggert 71-73-73-71; S Lowery 76-69-72-71; D Ogrin 73-72-71-72; B Andrade 68-77-68-75


S Verplank 71-71-71-76; N Faldo 73-71-72-73


J Carter 71-73-72-74; M Brooks 72-73-72-73; B Watts 72-73-72-73; T Tryba 70-74-76-70; D Frost 70-69-76-75; J D Blake 70-72-73-75


O Browne 73-71-71-76; T Dodds 69-75-75-72; T Byrum 72-71-74-74


R Karlsson 71-73-75-73; S Maruyama 68-77-73-74; L Roberts 72-71-74-75; S Leaney 72-70-72-79


A Coltart 70-75-75-74


D Sutherland 77-68-77-73


B Geiberger 73-70-79-74; C Parry 70-75-74-77; B Fabel 73-72-73-78


C Perry 73-71-75-78;


T Herron 73-70-79-76