Green Jacket Is Just Reward for Golf's Hardest Worker

Article excerpt

AUGUSTA, Ga. - We seem to have underestimated Mr. Vijay Singh, Fiji's greatest golfer, living or dead.

The man might emote less than Steven Wright and have a game right out of Mechanics Illustrated, but he's obviously a whale of a player, unflappable even in the most knee-knocking of situations. Any guy who could hold off young glamour pusses David Duval, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods on the final day of the Masters is deserving of genuflection, if not cloning.

Until this past weekend, Singh was seen as a very talented player but not quite an elite one. He had won the PGA Championship at Sahalee in '98, but his main competition in the final round there was Steve Stricker. His three-stroke, going-away victory yesterday, though, puts him on an entirely different plateau. After all, he has contended twice in the U.S. Open and has tied for sixth in the British. Who's to say he won't complete a career Grand Slam before he saunters off to the Senior Tour? He's only 37.

But even winning two majors - especially two different majors - puts him in some pretty exclusive company. Mark O'Meara did it in the same year (1998), of course, and Woods has done it. So have the two Nicks, Price and Faldo, and dear departed Payne Stewart. But among current golfers, at least, it's a short list. The only others who come to mind are Seve Ballesteros, John Daly and Sandy Lyle (Jack Nicklaus belonging to another generation).

"If you win one [major], people can say you were lucky," Singh said. "But if you win twice. . . . [What's great about it is that] it makes you believe you can win a bunch more. I'd like to be able to win all of 'em by the time I'm done."

"He's a great player," said Duval. "I don't think anybody should be surprised that Vijay Singh won this golf tournament. He fits what everybody says you should be. He hits it long and straight, and he putted very well in the two rounds I played with him."

That's the biggest difference between the Singh of today and the Singh of a couple of years ago: his putting. He went to a cross-handed grip a few months before his PGA win, and it has changed his life. He's still very fickle as far as putters are concerned; he'll change to another one lickety-split if the ball isn't rolling in. "I have 1,000 putters at home," he said. "That's not an understatement." But he doesn't worry any more "about whether I'm going to pull it or push it. I'm more into my line now than my stroke. …