Singh alone on the Tiger hunt
US PGA: Cool Fijian is the one player unfazed by Woods' imperious march through the major season
Sunday 07 August 2005
First he must negotiate the unfamiliar stairs in his rented house close to Baltusrol Golf Club. Then he must ensure that the kettle does not scald him, nor the griddle on which he will cook his favourite hash browns.
After breakfast it admittedly gets a little trickier as his fate will be in the lap of others, principally his chauffeur, who will have the honour of driving him to the US PGA Championship, and then the rest of the field on the range, who he will count on for keeping a tight hold of their clubs and not letting any slip loose in his direction.
A short buggy ride later and it is hard to see much danger on the practice putting green, while his final trip from there is only 50 yards and deceptively straight and unimpeding. And then he's home and sky high: tournament over, who's coming second, would you like champagne with your 11th major, Tiger, or will an isotonic drink suffice as usual?
Yes, most in golf do believe that Woods has only to make it to the first tee on Thursday and the campaign's last biggie is his. Well, everybody apart from a few of his fellow professionals, of course, though all but one of them can be seen as being seriously delusional. Only Vijay Singh looks to have anything like a justifiable case against the world No 1 notching up his third major of the year, which together with his second at the US Open would represent the finest major-season in history.
It is not only Singh's merit as defending champion that singles him out, or even the fact that he is the only other golfer to have three top-10 finishes in the year's three majors thus far. In Michigan last weekend the Fijian showed he is as unimpressed as ever by the 29-year-old's genius. When he felt the breath of Tiger on his supposedly exposed neck he effortlessly lengthened his gigantic stride to stroll home by a "Woods at St Andrews" margin.
A new putter was to thank for his first title in 11 weeks (an absolute aeon for someone of Singh's voraciousness), not to mention a renewed zest for the fight. "I'm excited about Baltusrol," the two-time US PGA winner said. "Very, very excited."
So, too, is Woods, however. Team Tiger could barely conceal their joy after seeing the 7,392-yard Lower Course for the first time last Monday. "We don't usually play courses this straightforward," Woods said, mouth watering. "The rough is thick, but like any other PGA, it will be fair. That's why we all love playing this championship, because they never go over the edge."
Singh concurred, hinting that a fluke is not on the scorecards. "There's no trick," he said. "It's all about hitting it long and straight. It's not going to be a low-scoring tournament."
But it will be inevitable, or so Hank Haney, Woods' coach, believes. "The rough is very, very difficult and the course is very, very long," he said. "It won't be a problem for Tiger and Vijay, but it will be for a lot of the others."
Well, what of the prospects of these "others", just to be charitable? Ernie Els is not even here (out for the season with a knee injury) while Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen are both the palest shadows of their past selves.
The European challenge can almost be written off as coming from two youngsters who cannot yet link four major rounds together - Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia - and from a resurgent veteran with three swollen fingers who may not even play - Colin Montgomerie.
Indeed, the most intriguing sideshow to the Tiger and Vijay extravaganza could well be John Daly's efforts to reach the par-five 17th in two. The 1991 champion did so the last time the Lower Course played host to a major - the 1993 US Open - but 20 yards have been added since to make it a whopping 650 yards. That will not stop Daly trying as he signified in last week's attempt to drive a ball from Canada to the United States, over Niagara Falls. He came up just a few feet short.
The 39-year-old will simply grin and rip it and leave all the whingeing about the unfairness of "the longest hole in championship golf" to the rest. There will doubtless be sniggers at any such cries of injustice from the ghosts of Baltusrol and not only its eponymous hero, Baltus Roll, the Scottish immigrant farmer who was murdered on the grounds in 1831.
The spirit of Robert Trent Jones might also be heard with a chuckle, too, if the members' bar's tale of an incident that happened in the early Fifties bears any truth at all. Then, the legendary designer was asked to make some wholesale renovations to the course in preparation for the 1954 US Open. Changes completed, some of the crusty old souls on the committee were not too happy with the severity of the swales on the par-three fourth green and ordered Jones back to hear their grievances.
Jones walked with the said dissenters to the said hole, dropped a ball on the tee, swung a four iron and promptly plopped it into the hole with two bounces. "Gentleman, I believe this hole to be eminently fair," he announced, before making his way back to the clubhouse for a large brandy. On the house, naturally.
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