Els crowns Singh as 'the world's best'

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The Independent Online

The best player in the world will tee off in the Volvo PGA Championship on the West Course here today. Before there is a stampede to see Tiger Woods in action, it should be pointed out that in the opinion of Ernie Els the "unofficial world No1" is Vijay Singh.

The best player in the world will tee off in the Volvo PGA Championship on the West Course here today. Before there is a stampede to see Tiger Woods in action, it should be pointed out that in the opinion of Ernie Els the "unofficial world No1" is Vijay Singh.

Outspoken of late, Els is more usually the soul of discretion. The South African's admiration for Singh is genuine despite the hard-working Fijian being one of those who wields a belly putter, an implement Els thinks should be banned.

"If that's what he thinks, I guess I have to agree," Singh said of Els' compliment. "But the ranking system is something we cannot break. I will only be fulfilled when I am No 1 on the official rankings."

Singh, with three victories this season in the States, has got closer to Woods than anyone has for years. At 41, he has had the most remarkable career. At one point honing his game in Borneo, at another being a nightclub bouncer in Edinburgh.

He has got where he has by hard work, spending longer on the practice range than anyone else, "figuring out a way to hit the ball straight". Around three years ago that clicked into place and since then he has worked assiduously on his fitness to maintain the strength to keep up with the young guns.

"I am still very driven," he said. "I am trying to win every week but I know I am not going to. If I hit a bad shot it does not bother me. I am comfortable with my swing. If something is wrong, I can fix it during a round."

Like Els, and Greg Norman and Nick Price before them, Singh enjoyed a lengthy apprenticeship on the European Tour. "It was playing against Seve [Ballesteros] and Nick Faldo that I learned how tough you have to be," he said.

Also like Els, Singh has won the World Match Play here but not the PGA. Though there are the odd unexpected absentees this week, such as Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia, Singh was No 1 on the US money list last year and heads it so far this season. Els was and is in the same position in Europe. The two tour's Players Champions, Adam Scott and Trevor Immelman, are also present.

Immelman watched Singh come home in 29 to win in New Orleans earlier this month and decided to switch to the belly putter. He promptly won in Germany last week. Singh placed a belly putter in Els's locker yesterday. "If he thinks it is so easy, he should try it," Singh said. "I told him to try it before he breaks it."

This is the 50th PGA Championship and the 1,000th event since the European Tour was founded in 1971. It is also the 17th and last to be sponsored by Volvo, who will now concentrate on the season-ending Volvo Masters for at least another three years and on the China Open, which will start next season's European Tour.

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