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Forty with a Bullet
Alan Shipnuck
February 03, 2003
Vijay Singh, a winner in Phoenix, is getting better, not older
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February 03, 2003

Forty With A Bullet

Vijay Singh, a winner in Phoenix, is getting better, not older

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VIJAY SINGH is the Diane Lane of the PGA Tour—the older he gets, the better he looks. Singh turns 40 in a couple of weeks, and when he says, "I feel my best golf is ahead of me," it's not a boast, but a warning. On Sunday he blew away the competition at the Phoenix Open with an overpowering eight-under 63, but it was just another day at the office for the hardest-working man in golf.

Singh has been a force on Tour since 1993, when he was named rookie of the year, though that was a bit of a misnomer since he was already 30 years old and had won in Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Spain, Sweden and Zimbabwe. In the years that followed, this international man of mystery has given us consistently brilliant golf, and little else. In an age when the boundary between sports and entertainment is increasingly blurred, and in a sport that thrives on the cult of personality, Singh almost defiantly refuses to play to the public. As a result he has become the most underrated player in the game, even though he's fourth in the World Ranking. Maybe he refrains from offering sound bites because he's comfortable allowing his record to speak for itself.

Since Tiger Woods's epochal victory at the 1997 Masters, only three other players have won more than one major—Ernie Els, Mark O'Meara and Singh. The Phoenix Open was Singh's 12th victory on Tour, and he's won every year since '97, except in 2001, and in some ways that season was the truest testament to his dazzling consistency, as he led the Tour with 14 top 10 finishes and ended up fourth on the money list. For five years running he has been among the Tour's top five money earners, all the while enjoying an international success that is rivaled only by Els's and Woods's.

Singh's accomplishments may not have captured the public's imagination, but he commands respect from his peers. Heading into the final round at Phoenix he was tied for fourth, two shots back of Harrison Frazar, one behind John Huston and Tim Petrovic, yet after Singh birdied five of the first six holes, the rest of the field seemed to concede him the victory. "You expect great players to shoot great rounds on Sunday? Petrovic said. "That's what they do."

Of his playing partner's roaring start, Kirk Triplett said, "It's not hard to be aggressive when you're driving it 350 yards on every hole and all you've got left is a sand wedge." Singh has always possessed one of golf's most overwhelming power games. On Sunday evening he explained his victory by saving, "I putted quite nicely for a change."

Singh did have eight one-putts while shooting 29 on the front nine, but that was not exactly a fluke. He may publicly obsess over his work on the greens, but last year he ranked a respectable 35th in putting average, and you don't win a green jacket unless you can roll your rock.

Singh has enjoyed continued success at the Masters since his victory in 2000, finishing seventh last year when the longer, tougher course was unveiled. He figures to be a factor again this year and beyond. Singh has said that his goal is to win at least two more majors, and there is no reason to think this aging warrior will run out of time. On Sunday evening he summarized why his future is so bright. "Good swing, I'm in good shape, and with the equipment we have now, you can play forever."