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Golf

Singh poised for history

The No. 1 player takes the Chrysler lead and is in position to tie Tiger Woods for victories in a season.

By BOB HARIG
Published October 31, 2004

PALM HARBOR - There could be no dreaming of this growing up on a dirt floor in Fiji or swatting balls in a Borneo rain forest or working as a bouncer in Europe to make ends meet.

As a PGA Tour rookie more than a decade ago, Vijay Singh's goals were modest, such was the enormity of a tournament title in the United States.

"Winning one time would have been a big achievement," he said.

Now he's on the verge of doing so for the ninth time this year.

Singh shot 4-under-par 67 on Saturday to take the third-round lead at the Chrysler Championship and put himself in position to match Tiger Woods for the most victories in a season (nine) since 1950.

Although a slew of players will be chasing Singh, and the Copperhead course at the Westin Innisbrook Resort proved that disaster lurks at any moment, he is in a strong position.

Singh has won five of his past seven starts on the PGA Tour, including the PGA Championship in August in a playoff and pressure-packed victories against John Daly at the Buick Open, Woods at the Deutsche Bank Classic and Mike Weir at the Canadian Open.

And he has won his past 10 tournaments when holding or sharing the 54-hole lead.

"I think anybody should marvel at that, whatever sport you're in or whatever you do," said Tommy Armour, who is a stroke behind Singh. "He's been pretty much the dominant player this year in golf, actually the last two years."

Armour, 45, would appear to be at a huge disadvantage. In his 22-year career, he has won just twice, and the victories came 13 years apart, although his last was at the 2003 Texas Open, where he set the PGA Tour scoring record.

But this has not been a particularly strong year for Armour, who is 153rd on the money list.

"I'm looking forward to it, what can you say?" he said. "End of the year in the last group with the No.1 player in the world? Pretty good. ... Trailing Vijay by a shot, you know, he's probably not going to give you anything, so you've got to go out and play good."

Singh is at 201, 12 under par. Armour shot 68. Sweden's Jesper Parnevik and Kirk Triplett shot 68 to move into contention at 203.

Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal (67), who is fighting to retain his exempt status by finishing among the top 125 money winners, is four back and tied for fifth with Tom Carter (65). There are 11 players within five shots of the lead.

Second-round co-leaders Jeff Sluman and Jonathan Byrd struggled. Sluman made triple-bogey 7 at the sixth hole, then played the last four 2 over par to shoot 74. He is tied for seventh, five strokes back. Byrd took a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a hazard at the 15th hole and shot 75. He is tied for 12th, six behind.

"I made a big number on 6, first probably bad shot I hit in the whole tournament and got tangled up in the trees," said Sluman, who opened with 62 on Thursday. "It was just disappointing."

Singh had his troubles, too. He made bogeys at the second and third holes to fall five strokes behind. But he quickly rebounded with birdies at three of the next four. And when he knocked his 5-wood second shot onto the green at the par-5 11th and two-putted for birdie, he was right back in the tournament.

For a time, five players - Singh, Armour, Parnevik, Byrd and Sluman - were tied for the lead before Singh pulled away with birdies at the 14th and 17th.

"For him, this is automatic now," said Parnevik, who will be trying for his first victory since the 2001 Honda Classic. "He's very relaxed, very focused when he plays. Nothing bothers him whatsoever. He just expects to win every week, and it doesn't matter if he starts with two bogeys ... he just keeps going. He has an amazing run going. It's the same run Tiger had four years ago."

That is when Woods won nine times, including three major championships. Although Singh managed only one major victory this year, he has put together an impressive run. He has clinched his second straight PGA Tour money title and ascended to the No.1 ranking in the world. He has won 11 times since turning 40 last year.

Not bad for Fiji's most famous golfer who for a time was a teaching pro in Borneo, then played on the European PGA Tour before coming to the PGA Tour at age 30 in 1993.

Back then, Singh worried about keeping his tour card. Now he's got a chance to make history. A victory would be the 24th of his PGA Tour career, more than any other active player under 50, except for Woods, who has 40.

"You want to give yourself a chance on Sunday," Singh said. "I just try to keep in touch. A tough golf course like this, you don't worry about what the leads are, you just keep pace and your patience and see if you can get a chance on Sunday. Fortunately I've done better than that this year."

[Last modified October 31, 2004, 00:57:29]


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