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Singh sheds albatross with win

©Associated Press
November 4, 2002

ATLANTA -- Annoyed by two past failures at East Lake, Vijay Singh left nothing to chance Sunday in the Tour Championship.

After working overtime on a swing he could trust and rehearsing a 3-iron shot to the 18th in case it came down to the final hole, Singh finally got revenge on East Lake, closing with 3-under 67 to win the final PGA Tour event of the year.

"The last two times I came over here, I thought I was going to win it," Singh said after a two-stroke victory over Charles Howell III. "I've finally done it, and it's really something I'm going to cherish."

It was the third straight Tour Championship at East Lake that Singh held at least a share of the 54-hole lead. He lost in a playoff to Hal Sutton in 1998 after bogeying the 72nd hole.

Two years ago, he was tied with Tiger Woods and closed with 73 as both lost to Phil Mickelson.

Singh finally learned how to close the deal. He struck the ball beautifully, kept out of trouble and dared everyone else to catch him.

"Every time I hit a good shot, he was right there to answer," Howell said after closing with 66 in his Tour Championship debut.

First it was Jerry Kelly, who made an ace on No. 11 to trim the lead to one. Singh responded with three straight birdies starting on the par-5 ninth. Then came Howell, who holed a wedge from the 13th fairway for eagle and birdied the 17th to cut the margin to two.

That was a small enough margin for Singh to remember his first failure at East Lake -- bogey on the par-3 18th that allowed Sutton to get into a playoff and beat him.

"I had the same club in my hand," Singh said. "I was practicing that this morning. I said if it comes down to 18, I need to hit a solid 3-iron. And that was the best one I hit. When I struck the ball, I didn't have to look to know it was going straight for the green."

A two-putt par gave him 12-under 268 and $900,000.

David Toms had 67 to finish third. The former PGA champion failed to win a tournament for the first time since 1998, but finished fourth on the money list.

Tiger Woods was never a factor after double bogeying the opening hole and shooting 70 to tie for seventh. Woods grimaced on his approach to the 15th, and later attributed that to a sore knee that has bothered him all year.

Singh was never worried about Woods or anyone else.

"The key was my golf," he said. "I focused on hitting the fairways, which I did. If you hit the fairways, the hole becomes so much easier."

WORLD LADIES MATCH PLAY: Grace Park won the championship in Narita, Japan, beating Midori Yoneyama with a 12-foot birdie on the 22nd hole.

"It's been a long year," said Park, who has a victory in each of her three seasons on the LPGA Tour. "I played solid every day except for the final round and couldn't be happier with the win."

Yoneyama, ranked 15th among 16 Japanese LPGA players in the 32-woman field, blew a chance to end the match on the 20th when her 2-foot par slid by the hole.

"I thought it was over then," said Park, who salvaged bogey on the hole after hitting into the trees. "I guess I was getting a little tired and it was fortunate when Midori missed that putt. But that's the way it goes."

Yoneyama also had a chance to win on the 18th, but her long birdie putt stopped an inch short, sending the players to extra holes.

Park dropped the No. 3 and No. 5 holes with bogeys, but closed to one with a 6-foot birdie on No. 9 and tied it on No. 13 when Yoneyama missed a 5-footer for par.

Park, the 1998 U.S. Amateur champion as a freshman at Arizona State, also beat Mikino Kubo, Karrie Webb and Yuri Fudoh. The 23-year-old earned $153,000 to move from 13th to eighth on the money list with $732,749.

In the morning semis, Yoneyama birdied the last three to edge Hee-Won Han in 19 holes, and Park routed Carin Koch 5 and 4.

SOUTHERN FARM BUREAU CLASSIC: The final round in Madison, Miss., was postponed because of rain and wind, with PGA rookie Luke Donald (15-under 201) leading by a stroke. Fifty-four were on the soggy course when play was stopped after about an hour. Twenty-seven, including the leaders, had yet to tee off on a day when temperatures dipped into the 40s. Play resumes today.

ITALIAN OPEN: Ian Poulter birdied the 18th for 3-under 69 and a two-stroke win over Paul Lawrie in the rain-shortened European PGA event in Rome. Lawrie, 1999 British Open champ, squandered a one-stroke lead on the 18th, hitting his drive out of bounds and taking double-bogey 6 for 70. The 26-year-old Poulter, who won the tournament in 2000, finished at 19-under 197.

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