Hard labour pays off as Singh takes Tiger's crown

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The Independent Online

Far more surprising than Tiger Woods being demoted from the top spot of the world rankings was how he managed to hang on to it for so long.

Far more surprising than Tiger Woods being demoted from the top spot of the world rankings was how he managed to hang on to it for so long. Finally, the mathematics of the situation caught up with what everyone knew as Vijay Singh became only the 12th player to be anointed as the world No 1 since the inception of the rankings in 1986.

Fittingly, Singh moved to the top of the pile after beating Woods himself at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston on Monday night. Woods, who has not won a major championship for over two years, has been a shadow of his former greatness but even finishing tied for second in his last two tournaments could not postpone the inevitable.

If there was a debate about who was the game's best player, the two central characters were Singh and Ernie Els, a dispute effectively settled when Singh won the USPGA Championship last month. But it took his third major title plus five other victories this season for Singh to be recognised by the computer. He got close to overtaking Woods in May, pressed too hard and promptly, and briefly, lost form.

Since then he put the notion out of his head and three wins in a month have followed. "This week wasn't about the ranking," Singh said. "It was a golf tournament. I was trying to beat Tiger and win the golf tournament. It was a good win, as well. Coming down the stretch got pretty tight there, but I got focused and played pretty good."

Singh added: "It's great. I've worked pretty hard for this. I finally achieved what I wanted to do starting at the beginning of the year. It's great to be ranked No 1 player in the world but it can change next week. It can change in two weeks' time. I don't know how to feel.

"I thought I was playing good enough to be No 1 for a while, but, I kept telling you guys, I can't do anything about the ranking. Finally it's turned in my favour. So, I don't know how long the ranking is going to favour me or anybody else. But it feels great right now and I'm really proud to achieve that."

So a Fijian, aged 41, who spent the early part of his career teaching the game in Borneo, is the best player in the game. It is a triumph for dedication to practising 365 days of the year and, in recent years, a relentless fitness programme. "I never thought I would be sitting here, the best player in the world right now," Singh said. "You know, it feels great, all of the hard work and all that I've come through, all of the people that have helped me through, I'd like to thank them. Obviously, it's been a journey and something that cannot be forgotten."

Woods has been the world No 1 for a record total of 334 weeks, including a run dating back five years to August 1999. At one point his lead over the next best player was 17 points but since then the calculation of the ranking has been upgraded. Hal Sutton's American team at the Ryder Cup no longer has the world's best player.

Woods, who has won only once this year, said: "No, I'm not disappointed about the ranking, I'm disappointed in not winning. As I said, winning takes care of the ranking. I had a great opportunity to win and just didn't do it." But he added: "I think it's just exciting to finally put the pieces together in my golf swing. All summer long, I've been slowly but surely putting them together, and this week was the culmination of it all. I really hit it good this week."

Kings of the fairways: the world no 1s

Bernhard Langer

April 1986. Total: 3 weeks

Seve Ballesteros

First spell: Apr 86; last: Aug 89. Total: 60

Greg Norman

First: Sept 86; last: Jan 98. Total: 331

Nick Faldo

First: Sept 90; last: Jan 94. Total: 97

Ian Woosnam

First: Apr 91; last: Mar 92. Total: 50

Fred Couples

First: Mar 92, last: Jul 92. Total: 16

Nick Price

First: Aug 94, last: Jun 95. Total: 43

Tom Lehman

Apr 97. Total: 1

Tiger Woods

First: Jun 97; last: Sept 04. Total: 329

Ernie Els

First: Jun 97. Last: Jun 98. Total: 9

David Duval

First: Mar 99. Last: Aug 99. Total: 15

Vijay Singh

First: Sep 04. Total: 1