Age doesn't matter anymore. Or it doesn't have to, anyway. Why do you think they keep running those Levitra ads during golf telecasts? Hale Irwin, 59, won the Senior PGA Championship and finished second on the Champions tour's money list. A 50-year-old golfer, Jay Haas, played well enough to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Meg Mallon, at 41, won the U.S. Women's Open, and a fellow member of the birth class of '63, Vijay Singh, won nine times on the PGA Tour. If you have the drive--and the right equipment, exercise routine and diet--being middle-aged and older is almost irrelevant in pro golf right now. Check that: It's a good thing!
Desire, Singh will tell you, is the most important factor. Singh didn't need more money. What he wanted was the respect that comes from being the best. An old cheating episode--as a broke 22-year-old pro at the 1985 Indonesian Open, he was caught fudging his second-round scorecard--made him an untouchable to some touring pros for years. Now he's a different kind of untouchable. He's the envy of every obsessive ball-beater who truly believes the answer is in the headcover-under-the-armpit practice routine.
He ascended to the throne on Labor Day. Perfect. That his nemesis, Tiger Woods, had to watch the whole thing up close? Too much.
By arrangement with the Screenwriters Guild, Vijay and Tiger were paired together in the last group for the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, played outside Boston. On the first Monday in September, Woods was still clinging to his No. 1 ranking. Singh, bolstered by his peculiar win at the PGA Championship in August (final-round 76), was No. 2.
Their meeting that day was to decide who would be the No. 1 player in the world. This is the kind of thing Tiger has always lived for. He had other incentives, too. There's no love lost between Woods and Singh, who dissed Tiger's friend Annika Sorenstam when she signed on to play in a PGA Tour event in 2003. Also, whatever Tiger won that week, he was giving to his charity. He was playing for more than himself.
Through 13 holes they were tied for the lead. It was Tiger Time. You remember Tiger Time. That's when he steps on his opponent's neck and raises his putter high in the air, humiliating the poor bastard.
Not this time. Without director approval, the two men reversed roles: Woods played the final five holes in even par, while Singh made birdies on 15, 17 and 18 to win by three strokes. At 41, Singh became the oldest golfer ever to rise to No. 1. None of the next-day stories bothered to note the age thing. There was no need to. By then everyone knew: In golf, a game with no defense, the ball doesn't care how old you are.
Singh's amazing year--only Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead have won more Tour events in a single season--has earned him our nod as SI's Player of the Year. It did not get his face on a Wheaties box, as Woods's 2000 season did. Part of that can be attributed to Singh's manner. He sort of moseys along between shots, seemingly in some dream state in which there's nothing to worry about and nothing but time. Woods won three majors in 2000, each fiercely, and had 10 wins in four countries. Some of Singh's nine wins, all in North America, were in unglamorous locales such as a housing development in Houston and a rural outpost in western Pennsylvania. The fields were sparkly at neither. Even his win at tony Pebble Beach was done against a mediocre field.
But the money totals do not lie. Singh, with $10.9 million, won nearly as much as Ernie Els (No. 2 on the money list) and Phil Mickelson (No. 3) combined. All Singh did in 2004 was run the table, supplant young Tiger, secure a place in the Hall of Fame--and take another step toward burying his past.