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Golf

Sunday showdown

Top-10 players Retief Goosen (two-shot lead) and Vijay Singh (three back) are in the final group today.

By BOB HARIG
Published November 2, 2003

PALM HARBOR - Sometime today, somewhere, Tiger Woods might want to start sticking needles in his Vijay Singh voodoo doll. How else do you stop him? Singh hovers like humidity these days, for all to feel his presence.

It took him a few rounds at the Chrysler Championship, but Singh got on a roll Saturday at the Westin Innisbrook Resort, matching the best score of the week on the Copperhead course to give him an opportunity for his second straight victory on the PGA Tour.

Singh shot 6-under-par 65 to force his way into the final group today with tournament leader Retief Goosen and Briny Baird, who will try to capture his first tour title among fine company.

"It's going to be a tough day," said Goosen, whose 67, including a birdie at the final hole, gave him a two-shot advantage over Baird and a three-shot cushion over Singh. "Vijay I know is playing well. The whole year he has been playing really well. He is probably the man to try to beat."

Who could argue? Singh, 40, the leading money winner on the PGA Tour, will be looking for his 17th top-10 finish of the season, the most since Woods had 17 in 2000.

More important, however, is the fact that Singh could clinch the money title with a victory and deny Woods, who is taking the week off, his fifth straight.

"I know the No. 1 player in the world is probably pulling for me to win," said Baird, 31, who is winless in four seasons. "He is pulling for a lot of people. He is probably pulling against one."

Singh has a $250,000 lead over Woods; a victory and the $864,000 winning check from the $4.8-million purse would make this week's Tour Championship moot in terms of the money race.

But it would add plenty of intrigue to Player of the Year honors. With another win, Singh would match Woods with five.

"He's got my vote for player of the year," said Dade City's Tim Petrovic, who moved into fourth place with 66 and is four shots back of Goosen. "He's just been the most consistent guy. Every time he tees it up he's in the top five or 10. ... He's tough."

But so is Goosen, the 2001 U.S. Open champion who splits time on both the U.S. and European tours and is considered a strong front-runner. Goosen, 34, the second-round leader who has 18 international victories, debated whether or not to play the Chrysler Championship, picking it over the Volvo Masters, the season-ending event in Spain on the European Tour.

At one point, Goosen had built a four-stroke lead over Baird, then saw it dwindle to one with a bogey at the 17th hole before he knocked his approach close at the 18th for another birdie and some breathing room.

"It would obviously have been a great decision to stay here and not go to Valderrama (Spain)," Goosen said. "My main goal is trying to get a win in my last two weeks here."

Goosen completed 54 holes at 202, 11 under par. Baird is two back at 204, with Singh at 205 and Petrovic at 206. Loren Roberts (68) and Jose Coceres (72) are tied for fifth at 208, six back.

The tournament will have two of the top 10 players in the world in the final group, along with Baird, who might seem out of place but is looking forward to the opportunity.

"I don't see it being a problem," said Baird, who is 35th on the money list and can earn a spot in the Tour Championship and the U.S. Open by moving into the top 30. "If this was my first year out here it probably would be a problem because they would look a lot bigger. Just right over there we put on our shoes in the same spot and our lockers are in the same spot. It's that simple when you play out here."

Singh is the one making it look simple. He has played 16 of his past 18 rounds on the PGA Tour at par or better and has been in the top-10 in nine of his past 10 events. On Saturday, he led the field in greens hit in regulation (14 of 18) and was tied for fourth in fairways hit (11 of 13).

Another low round, and he can make history at Woods' expense.

"If I do, I do. If I don't, I don't," Singh said. "I've still got a chance next week. He still has to beat me next week to pass me."

[Last modified November 2, 2003, 07:26:04]


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