Singing a New Tune
This has been the month of the Rested Winner on the PGA Tour. After missing the cut at the Masters, U.S. Open champion Ernie Els went home to South Africa for three weeks, during which he hardly touched a club. Two weeks ago, in his first start since returning to the U.S., he surprised himself by winning the GTE Byron Nelson Classic in Irving, Texas. Last week at the Buick Classic in Harrison, N.Y., it was Vijay Singh of Fiji who showed that no practice may be the route to victory.
Singh, who hits more range balls than any other player on the Tour, took two weeks off after the Shell Houston Open and promised himself he would not practice for 10 days. He hung out with his wife and four-year-old son at their new home in Ponte Vedra, Fla. "I made it nine days," Singh said with a smile on Saturday, after taking the 54-hole lead at Westchester Country Club with a seven-under-par 206.
On Sunday, Singh shot a one-over 72 and found himself in a playoff, not with midround leader Nick Faldo, who bogeyed four of his last seven holes coming in, but with Doug Martin, who birdied three of the last four.
Doug Martin? Ranked 158th on the money list with $33,763 at the start of the week, Martin's final-round 69 was one of only six sub-70 scores on a course that was set up with U.S. Open-type rough and with greens harder than the nearby Hutchinson River Parkway. "I was trying to shock the world," said the 28-year-old Martin, whose previous best finish this year was 31st in the Honda Classic.
The playoff lasted five holes, the longest on the Tour since Scott Hoch beat Robert Wrenn at the 1989 Las Vegas Invitational. Martin made par-saving putts on the third and fourth holes of sudden death but lost when he pushed a 247-yard three-wood under the trees to the right of the green at the par-5 18th. Singh, who made the 1993 Buick Classic his first PGA Tour victory, laid up from the rough and pitched to 15 feet. By the time Martin finished chopping through the bunker and onto the green, all Singh had to do was make par for the victory. Instead, he made the putt for his first birdie of the day.
The Buick was Singh's second victory of the year, and he joins Peter Jacobsen as the only double winners on the Tour in 1995. After his win at Phoenix in January, Singh went into a minislump. He missed cuts back-to-back at the Masters and the Heritage Classic. At the Greater Greensboro Open he switched to a longer-shafted putter and had top-10 finishes there and the following week at the Houston Open. This victory, worth $216,000, moved him from 15th to sixth on the money list.
"This one almost got away from me," Singh said after the playoff. "To win twice in the same year is really something."
Martin jumped 101 places on the money list, to 57th, with the $129,600 check for second. However, he was not satisfied. "I wasn't playing to finish second, I was playing to win," he said. "You're going to see more of me. This is just a start."