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Rediff.com  » Sports » Singh shines as Tiger's star wanes

Singh shines as Tiger's star wanes

December 13, 2004 11:11 IST

With the shadow of the Tiger receding, the year's dominant figure in golf was the workaholic Vijay Singh.

The 2004 season will also be remembered for the last-day drama at each of the four majors, the superb form of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen and the tightening grip by Sweden's Annika Sorenstam on the women's game.

For the second year in a row, Tiger Woods was winless in the majors. He also failed to clinch a strokeplay title on the PGA Tour for the first time since turning professional in 1996.

Above all, though, 2004 belonged to the remarkable Singh.

The smooth-swinging Fijian, whose work ethic is unparalleled, won nine times on the PGA Tour and became the first player to earn more than $10 million in a single campaign.

At the age of 41, he ended Woods's five-year reign as world number one and clinched just about every award going after producing one of the greatest seasons in history.

Singh's golden run, which included five wins in six starts, owed much to the Fijian's raw talent, unswerving dedication to practice and improved fitness regime.

VARDON TROPHY

He clinched for the first time the prized Vardon Trophy, with a PGA Tour stroke average of 68.84, and produced 18 top-10 finishes in 29 tour starts, 28 of which were strokeplay events.

The icing on the cake was his third career major in the U.S. PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

The tall Fijian became the tournament's fourth oldest winner, holing a 10-foot birdie putt at the first of three extra holes before edging out Americans Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco.

Significantly, he had switched back to a conventional blade from a belly putter the previous month.

"I think that's the biggest accomplishment I've ever had in my whole career," he said.

"The putter change did me great. I started putting really well and started driving the ball really straight.

"It's been an incredible year for me. The wins kept coming and I enjoyed every bit of it."

PAID TRIBUTE

Singh ended the season with record earnings of $10,905,166. Woods and Mickelson were quick to pay tribute.

"He's had one of the great years," said eight-times major winner Woods. "He's played some just unbelievable golf."

Mickelson agreed: "It's been sensational. There's no other way to describe it. It's been amazing."

While Singh's year was nothing short of remarkable, the nature of Europe's Ryder Cup victory over the United States at Oakland Hills in September was an even bigger surprise.

Europe were always going to be worthy opponents, with the biennial team competition tightly contested over the previous 20 years and usually not more than a point in it either way.

However the margin of their triumph, a record-equalling 18-1/2 points to 9-1/2, was totally unexpected.

The mastermind behind it was team captain Bernhard Langer, a German long renowned for his meticulous preparation and attention to detail.

"We beat one of the strongest U.S. teams in Ryder Cup history on their home soil," he said after Europe clinched the trophy for the fourth time in five matches. "This is just unbelievable."

CLOSE CALLS

The first three majors of the year featured two desperately close calls by South African Els and champion form by Mickelson, Goosen and American outsider Todd Hamilton.

Mickelson and Els produced an epic battle of shot-making in the final round of the U.S. Masters in April before the American left-hander ended a 14-year wait for a first major victory, holing an 18-foot birdie putt at the last.

Two months later, it was Goosen's turn at the U.S. Open. In brutal last-day conditions at sun-baked Shinnecock Hills, the South African single-putted 11 of the first 17 greens to hold off Mickelson and win by two shots.

In July, Els again had to settle for the bridesmaid's role when he lost to Hamilton in a four-hole playoff for the British Open at Royal Troon.

The pair had finished level at 10-under 274 but Els missed the green to the left at the third extra hole, the par-three 17th, before world number 56 Hamilton clinched the title by 11 shots to 12.

The following month, Els three-putted from around 80 feet at the last to cost himself the chance of joining the playoff for the U.S. PGA Championship. His tie for fourth was his fourth top-10 finish at the 2004 majors.

Although not quite as dominant as Singh, Sorenstam overshadowed the women's game for the fourth year in a row.

She won the LPGA Championship, to lift her career tally of majors to seven, and clinched her eighth tour title of 2004 at the season-ending ADT Tour Championship.

Mark Lamport-Stokes
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