Singh head and shoulders above field

Positive thinking benefits Fijian as he withstands challenges of Duval and Els to claim Green Jacket by three shots

The roles of club professional in the wilds of Borneo and of sometime nightclub bouncer in Edinburgh will have to share space on the CV of Vijay Singh with that of US Masters champion. Singh, the 37-year-old Fijian, donned a Green Jacket at the fabled Augusta National when he beat Ernie Els by three strokes. He finished in style by birdieing the last hole.

This was Singh's second victory in a major championship after he won the USPGA in 1998. He finished top of an impressive leaderboard with a closing round of 69 for 10 under par. David Duval, the world No 2, was his closest challenger for most of the day but bogeyed the last for a 70 to be tied for third with Loren Roberts. Tiger Woods, who was expected to make a last-day charge despite starting six behind, finished the same number of strokes back.

Singh's varied career has seen him play and win all over the world. He was briefly banned from the Asian Tour for a scorecard irregularity at a tournament in the early '80s. He spent time honing his game and then attempted to qualify for the Open at Muirfield in 1987, earning some extra cash in an nightclub in Edinburgh.

Singh's relaxed swing is the result of many hours spent on the practice range. When play was suspended due to darkness on Saturday night, one reporter felt compelled to check whether Singh would be off to a floodlit driving range. Singh held a three-stroke lead over Duval going into the final 18 holes after playing the last four holes of his third round in four pars. He needed three good putts to save par, including a brave 15-footer at the 17th.

It was a cold start to the day and Duval came out with sunglasses and a bobble hat but could not convert his birdie chances. Singh's third round 70 was one of only three under par posted by the second half of the draw.

Singh had not been better than 17th in his six previous appearances at Augusta. "I've changed my attitude about the greens," he said. "I am trying to enjoy them more rather than hate them. My wife said you can't come here thinking you will putt bad. You have to be positive. If you come here with a bad attitude, you might as well not come."

The temperature had risen considerably by the time the leaders teed off in the final round. Woods went to the turn in 33, with birdies at the 2nd, 4th, 7th and 8th, but still found himself five behind. Duval quickly cut Singh's lead to one by holing from eight feet for a birdie at the 2nd while Singh three-putted the 3rd.

But three times, at the 6th, 8th and 9th, when Duval briefly tied the leader, Singh matched the American's birdies. Duval was out in 32, two less than Singh, but immediately bogeyed the 10th. Singh, however, hooked his second into the pond at the next and did well to get down in a chip and a putt only to drop one stroke.

More significant was Duval's second to the par-five 13th. While Singh had found the safe part of the green, Duval aimed at the flag and came up short in Rae's Creek, which he also found at the 12th on Saturday. Duval's six, with Singh's birdie, meant a two-shot swing, restoring Singh's three-stroke advantage.

He again matched Duval's birdie at the 15th and a dropped shot at the short 16th did not matter in the end. Els, five behind at the turn, birdied the 11th, 13th and 15th in his 68.

Woods failed to birdie the 13th and, after a poor drive, had to lay-up at the 15th but birdied the hole. He gave the shot back immediately at the next and his 69 left him fifth, his second-best finish in the Masters.

The 24-year-old world No 1 had started the week as the hot favourite. "It's disappointing that I didn't win but at least I gave myself a chance on Sunday on the back nine," Woods, who was lying 39th at the half-way stage. "After the way I started, I'm pretty proud of that. I got off to a great start, turned in three under and was right in the ball game."

Having caught the worst of the weather on Saturday, when he scored 77, Colin Montgomerie finished on three over after a 69, including an eagle at the 13th, his first at a par-five in nine years at Augusta. "I've come in here for nine years with great anticipation and always end up with great depression. Here we are again," he said."

Montgomerie, captain of the Great Britain and Ireland team to face Europe in the Seve Ballesteros Trophy at Sunningdale this week, named Ian Woosnam as his wild card. But Woosie, the highest player on the world rankings not otherwise eligible, came home in 40 for a 75. He rolled in 25-footer for a birdie at the last but was so frustrated with his putting he said he might not play at Sunningdale. Or in anything else for a while.

"It's driving me nuts," said the Welshman. "I am very close to the point of giving up the game. I might take a complete break for six months." The final qualifiers for the Ryder Cup style match were Phil Price for Great Britain and Ireland and Sweden's Robert Karlsson for Europe.

Masters rookies Padraig Harrington, with a final round of 71, and Jean Van de Velde, with a 70, tied with Montgomerie at three over as the leading Europeans. Darren Clarke closed with a 74, four shots better than in the third round when he said: "I played fantastic golf and got nothing for it."

FINAL ROUND SCORES (US unless stated)

278 Vijay Singh (Fiji) 72 67 70 69 281 E Els (SA) 72 67 74 68 282 L Roberts 73 69 71 69, D Duval 73 65 74 70 284T Woods 75 72 68 69 285T Lehman 69 72 75 69 286 P Mickelson 71 68 76 71, D Love III 75 72 68 71, C Franco (Par) 79 68 70 69 287 H Sutton 72 75 71 69 288 G Norman (Aus) 80 68 70 70, F Couples 76 72 70 70, N Price (Zim) 74 69 73 72 289 C Perry 73 75 72 69, J Huston 77 69 72 71, J Furyk 73 74 71 71, D Paulson 68 76 73 72 290 J Sluman 73 69 77 71 291 C Montgomerie (GB) 76 69 77 69, J Van de Velde (Fr) 76 70 75 70, B Estes 72 71 77 71 291, P Harrington (Irl) 76 69 75 71, G Day 79 67 74 71, S Stricker 70 73 75 73 292 L Mize 78 67 73 74, C Parry (Aus) 75 71 72 74, S Jones 71 70 76 75 293 P Azinger 72 72 77 72, T Bjorn (Den) 71 77 73 72, J Leonard 72 71 77 73, S Cink 75 72 72 74, N Faldo (GB) 72 72 74 75, M Ozaki (Japan) 72 72 74 75, D Hart 75 71 72 75, B Langer (Ger) 71 71 75 76, M Weir 75 70 70 78 293 294 F Funk 75 68 78 73, J Haas 75 71 75 73, N Begay III 74 74 73 73 295 R Goosen (SA) 73 69 79 74, D Clarke (GB) 72 71 78 74, M Brooks 72 76 73 74, I Woosnam (GB) 74 70 76 75, J Parnevik (Swe) 77 71 70 77, S Garcia (Sp) 70 72 75 78 296 S Gump 75 70 78 73, S Maruyama (Japan) 76 71 74 75 297 B Jobe 73 74 76 74 298 MA Jimenez (Sp) 76 71 79 72, S Pate 78 69 77 74, David Toms 74 72 73 79 299 S Elkington (Aus) 74 74 78 73, R Mediate 71 74 75 79 303 J Nicklaus 74 70 81 78, *D Gossett 75 71 79 78 308 S Kendall 76 72 77 83 313 T Aaron 72 74 86 81

COMPLETE THIRD-ROUND SCORES (US unless stated)

209 V Singh (Fiji) 72 67 70 212, D Duval 73 65 74 213, L Roberts 73 69 71, E Els (SA) 72 67 74; 215 D Love III 75 72 68, T Woods 75 72 68, M Weir (Can) 75 70 70, P Mickelson 71 68 76; 216 N Price (Zim) 74 69 73 T Lehman 69 72 75; 217 D Paulson 68 76 73, C Franco (Par) 79 68 70, S Garcia (Sp), B Langer (Ger) 71 71 75, S Jones 71 70 76; 218 F Couples 76 72 70, N Faldo (GB) 72 72 74, J Furyk 73 74 71, D Hart 75 71 72, J Huston 77 69 72, L Mize 78 67 73, G Norman (Aus) 80 68 70, Jumbo Ozaki (Japan) 72 72 74, J Parnevik (Swe) 77 71 70, C Parry (Aus) 75 71 72, S Stricker 70 73 75, H Sutton 72 75 71; 219 S Cink 75 72 72, D Toms 74 72 73, J Sluman 73 69 77; 220 B Estes 72 71 77, P Harrington (Rep Ire) 76 69 75, J Leonard 72 71 77, R Mediate 71 74 75, C Perry 73 75 72, I Woosnam (GB) 74 70 76, G Day 79 67 74; 221 P Azinger 72 72 77, T Bjorn (Den) 71 77 73, M Brooks 72 76 73, D Clarke (GB) 72 71 78, F Funk 75 68 78, J Haas 75 71 75, S Maruyama (Japan) 76 71 74, R Goosen (SA) 73 69 79, J Van de Velde (Fr) 76 70 75; 222 C Montgomerie (GB) 76 69 77, N Begay III 74 74 74; 223 S Gump 75 70 78, B Jobe 73 74 76; 224 S Kendall 76 72 76, S Pate 78 69 77; 225 J Nicklaus 74 70 81, D Gossett 75 71 79; 226 S Elkington (Aus) 74 74 78, M Angel Jimeñez (Sp) 76 71 79; 232T Aaron 72 74 86.

Comments