Golf: `Vijay day' for Singh as his dream comes true

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The Independent Online
The Fijian, Vijay Singh, recorded the biggest win of his career in the Toyota World Match Play Championship by gaining revenge over last year's winner Ernie Els, as Andy Farrell reports from Wentworth.

Had Ernie Els's first defeat in the Toyota World Match Play Championship come in his opening match of next year's event, it might have been attributed to superstition. Instead, he fell at the 12th hurdle and rather his name appearing on the trophy for the first time, Vijay Singh was engraved for the first time.

Singh's win - Vijay is the Hindi word for "victory" - was not secured until the 36th and last hole of the final. This was the 34th playing of the tournament and Singh is also 34-years-old, born of Indian descent on the island of Fiji.

While Els, whose countryman Gary Player, like Seve Ballesteros, won the title five times, could be expected to have grown up with an interest in the World Match Play, Singh did too. "I have followed this tournament ever since I was young," he said. "It was the `Piccadilly' then. Now here I am playing in it and winning it. This is an achievement I have always dreamed of."

The extraordinary story of how a Fijian found success on the world golfing stage - at one point he was a club pro, if that is not too grand a term, in Borneo - had another chapter written with the biggest win of his career. It was his 21st in all, his fourth this year and deprived Els of the pounds 170,000 first prize.

Singh had been defeated by Els 3 and 2 in the final a year ago, but in the intervening time has hired a personal fitness trainer to get him into better shape. It helped him survive 133 holes of golf over four days. "It is a big achievement to beat Ernie and makes up for last year," he said.

The South African, who only just squeezed through against Nick Price in his semi-final on Saturday at the 37th, found himself four down after 14 holes in the morning. His usual natural rhythm was missing and also his laid-back air. "I could have broken a couple of clubs," Els said.

He lost six holes during the day to pars by Singh, the most crucial at the 15th in the afternoon. It had taken him until the 10th to get back to all square, although at the next followed Singh's approach, which was immediately conceded, to four feet but missed the putt.

Els levelled again at the 12th, but at the 15th he missed the green in a bunker and failed to get up and down. From there he was struggling to match his opponent, though he managed a half after driving into trees at the 16th.

When Els found a bunker with his second to the last, Singh sent a soft five-iron right on line and 10ft short of the pin. That was that although Els only conceded when he failed to get up and down from the sand. "It had to be over sometime," he said. "I never felt comfortable out there today. It is a pity it had to end this way. It would have been different if I had played well and he had beaten me playing great."

The gallery, albeit marginally bigger than for the final of the Sunningdale Foursomes in the spring time down the road, was disappointingly small for what is meant to be an autumn classic. The alternative entertainment did not last long, either, as Brad Faxon took only 14 holes to dispose of Price in the third-fourth play-off.

This was the seventh tournament to be sponsored by Toyota and probably the last although an expected announcement about the future of the event was not forthcoming yesterday. To attract a new sponsor, the promoters, the International Management Group, will have to guarantee more marquee names than have appeared in recent years. Chief among them will have to be Tiger Woods, the organisation's leading client.

TOYOTA WORLD MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP (The West Course, Wentworth, Surrey): Final (36 holes): V Singh (Fiji) bt E Els (SA) 1 hole. Third-place play- off (18 holes): B Faxon (US) bt N Price (Zim) 5 and 4.