Originally created 04/10/00

Singh takes tournament title



The man from the South Seas completed a long day's journey into night at the Augusta National Golf Club by winning the 64th Masters Tournament by three shots Sunday.

Vijay Singh of Fiji played 22 holes in three under par Sunday for the second major championship victory of his career and ninth of his PGA Tour career. His other major came in the 1998 PGA Championship.

Singh completed the final four holes of his third round beginning at 8:15 Sunday morning in even par for a 2-under-par 70, highlighted by an 18-foot par saving putt on the 17th hole.

He carried a three-shot lead into the final round, where a 3-under-par 69 brought him home in 10-under-par 278 for the tournament, which ended in the near-dusk.

The winning total is two shots lower than 1999 champion Jose Maria Olazabal's score. That came as a surprise considering six fairways were narrowed this year and brutal cold and windy weather made scoring difficult in the third round when only seven players broke par. Twenty-one broke par on Sunday on a calm and warm day.

Singh, the No. 8-ranked player in the world, won $828,000, bringing his earnings to $1,440,118 this season. More important was the Masters title and the green jacket symbolic of it.

"I love the color of green," Singh said after he slipped it on.

Singh, whose first name means "victory" in Hindu, never lost the lead from the 12th hole of the third round on, or the final 25 holes of the tournament. He played that stretch in four under par. Still, his lead was cut to one shot at a point early in the final round.

"I was pretty focused out there all day because I never had a clear lead," Singh said.

Ernie Els of South Africa finished three shots back and Loren Roberts and David Duval, who bogeyed the final hole, were four back. Els shot a 68, Roberts 69 and Duval 70.

David Gossett of the University of Texas, the lone amateur of the six starters in the field to make the cut, ended up at 303 after rounds of 75-71-79-78.

Pretournament favorite Tiger Woods, six shots off Singh's lead at the start of the final round, issued an early challenge but never got closer than three shots of the lead. That came after his fifth hole. Even after a birdie on the 15th hole, Woods trailed Singh by four shots. A bogey on the 16th hole ended Woods' title hopes.

Woods played his final 36 holes in seven under par, but was undermined by a 75 in the first round and 72 in the second round.

"I knew that going into this week and I know that going into every time I play that this game is fickle," Woods said. "I had a chance this week and I just didn't win."

Singh never cracked, not even after his approach shot on the 11th hole found the water. Singh was able to salvage a bogey on one of the toughest holes on the course. He followed that with a par save from the back bunker on the 12th hole. He received a fortunate bounce on that hole when his tee shot bounced off the azalea-laden hill into a perfect lie in the bunker.

"Those are the kind of things you need to win," Duval said. "Those are the breaks you need at times."

Singh had 18 birdies, one eagle, 10 bogeys and 43 pars in the tournament.

"Walking up the 18th fairway knowing I had a lead was probably the greatest feeling I've had in a long, long time," Singh said.

"He showed his mettle in the PGA Championship (which Singh won in 1998) and he showed it today," Els said.

Singh, who left Fiji at age 17 to seek a career in golf, has played on tours in five continents, including Asia, where he was banned for two years (1984 and 1985) for what the tour called cheating on his score. Singh called it a misunderstanding.

This week, Singh rebounded from a terrible putting day in round one (36 putts) to have 27 in the second round, 31 in the third round and 30 in the fourth round.

"From tee to green, I'm a good candidate to win it," Singh said, whose previous best finish in six previous Masters appearances was a tie for 17th in 1997.

"The only thing stopping me was the greens," Singh said. "I think it helped when it rained and slowed the greens a little bit."

Two months before the 1998 PGA Championship, held in August, Singh went to a cross-handed putting style. He credits that with his improved putting.

"If you asked me two years ago, I don't think I could win this the way I was putting," Singh said. "Augusta's greens are so severe, if you're not a good putter, you're not going to win, simple as that. I think an attitude change was a big boostto that."

"That's (putting) a necessity around here," Duval said of Singh's solid putting the final three rounds. "About the only putt he missed today was on No. 16. He putted wonderfully. He probably putted better than the played."

Because of his horrid first-round putting, Singh finished 45th in the field in putting. Still, it was in improvement over his past performances here on the greens.

"I try to tell myself `you're going to enjoy hitting these putts,"' Singh said. "That's the kind of attitude you need to have. I read a lot of books about it that say if you keep talking to yourself, you're going to be able to do it. I guess it helped."

"This golf course has been always perfectly suited his game," Els said. "He just didn't putt very well in the past."

Els' 68 was the day's low round, but he ran out of gas on the last three holes when he missed birdie puts of 8, 15 and 12 feet that could have put pressure on Singh.

"It was not meant to be for me this week, man," Els said. "Maybe next year. I'm happy for Vijay though. I've know him a long time. H'es been my practice round partner for quite a few years."

Duval, who said the tournament was his to "win or lose" before it started, was undone by the back nine for the second straight year. After shooting 4-under-par 32 on the front nine Sunday, he came home in 38. In 1999, he shot 33-37 -- 70 to tie for sixth place.

After it was over, a crestfallen Duval said "I don't feel real good. It feels terrible. Quite frankly, I played well enough to win the golf tournament if not for a few untimely shots. The day did not turn out like I expected."

Six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus said the end of his career in Augusta may be near. Nicklaus has always vowed he would not be what he calls a "ceremonial" golfer at the Masters, meaning he wouldn't play unless he thought he could win the tournament.

Nicklaus shot 74-71-81-78 to finish at 303, his highest total by four shots.

In two of is rounds -- the first and the final round -- Nicklaus did not make a birdie. For the 72 holes, he had only five of them.

"It's possible that was my last walk at 18," Nicklaus said. "I'm not saying it was and I'm not saying it wasn't."

Singh never trailed in the final round, but did have his led cut to one when Duval birdied the eighth hole.

The lead went to two shots over Duval when Duval bogeyed No. 10, but was back to one again when Singh bogeyed No. 11.

Singh led by three shots over Duval and Els after a birdie on No. 13. Roberts moved to within three shots after a birdie on his own on No. 14.

Down the stretch, Els moved to within two shots of Singh with a birdie on the 15th hole. Singh, playing one group behind Els, followed with a birdie to go to 10-under-par for the tournament and three ahead of Els and Duval, who also birdied No. 15.

Singh dropped a shot to par with a three-putt bogey on No. 16. Duval and Els were now two shots back with two to play.

Singh parred No. 17 and birdied No. 18. Els parred No. 17 and 18 while parred No. 17 and bogeyed No. 18 from a terrible lie in the fairway.

Singh, one of eight players who did not finish the darkness-delayed third round, had to make a 6-footer for par on No. 15 and the 18-footer for par on No. 17 after hitting his approach shot in a bunker.

Of the eight golfers who returned to the course Sunday morning to complete their third round, none played their remaining holes under par.

Singh was even par for his four holes for his 70, while Duval, his playing partner, was also even par for a 74 to trail Singh by three.

Els parred his final three holes for a 74 to trail Singh by four, Phil Mickelson played his final three holes in one over for a 76 to trail Singh by six, Tom Lehman birdied No. 17 and bogeyed No. 18 for a 75 to trail Singh by seven, Bernhard Langer parred his final two holes for a 75 to trail Singh by eight, as did Steve Jones who shot 75 to trail Singh by eight shots. Jeff Sluman bogeyed his final two holes for a 77 to trail Singh by 10 shots.