Originally created 11/04/02

Singh cruises to season-ending title



ATLANTA -- Vijay Singh atoned for two final-round failures at East Lake, pulling away from the field with three straight birdies and closing with a 3-under 67 Sunday to win the season-ending Tour Championship.

A 54-hole leader the previous two times at East Lake, Singh finally figured out how to close the deal. He put together his best ball-striking round, kept out of trouble and dared everyone else to come get him.

They certainly tried.

Jerry Kelly made an ace on No. 11 to trim Singh's lead to one.

Charles Howell III holed a wedge from the 13th fairway for an eagle and birdied the 17th to keep it interesting.

It wasn't enough. Singh missed only two greens and finished at 12-under 268 for a two-stroke victory over Howell.

"Every time I hit a good shot, he was right there to answer," Howell said.

Howell closed with a 66 and was the only player among the top 30 on the money list to break par all four rounds at East Lake.

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

Tiger Woods was never a factor after taking a double bogey on the opening hole. Woods grimaced on his approach to the par-5 15th, and later attributed that to a sore knee that has bothered him all year.

"You just have to play through it," Woods said.

Woods hit only four fairways, hanging his head as each drive sailed into the trees. He wound up with a 70 and a tie for seventh, the first time he has finished out of the top five since the British Open in July.

Singh earned $900,000 and some redemption at East Lake.

He had a one-stroke lead in 1998 and was poised to win until Hal Sutton got up-and-down from the bunker on No. 18 to force a playoff, then beat him on the first extra hole.

Two years ago, Singh and Woods were tied for the lead going into the final round. Singh shot 73, and Phil Mickelson passed both of them to win.

He didn't feel safe until it was over, especially after Howell's birdie on the 17th hole cut the lead to two strokes.

"I was a little nervous," Singh said. "It was like, 'Here we go again.' But I hit one of the best 3-irons I've hit in a long time right where I wanted to."

The ball was safe on the green, 30 feet from the hole, and he got his par.

That was about the only suspense all day, which is just how Singh wanted it.

Unlike the previous two Tour Championships at East Lake, Singh had a little more breathing room - a three-stroke lead over Howell, and an easy day for scoring with hardly any wind and overcast conditions.

Only nothing came easily for Singh.

He made bogey from the bunker on the opening hole and had to settle for pars over the next seven holes, which slowly allowed a group of other players to sneak into contention.

Davis Love III made six birdies over a span of eight holes to get within two strokes of the lead until he missed the 13th green and faded. Love had a 65 and tied for fifth at 275 with Mickelson (69).

Toms got within two shot of Singh with a short birdie putt on No. 9, then added another birdie on No. 12. He was never a factor after that, finishing with all pars.

The real scare came from Kelly, whose ace on No. 11 was only the fourth in the 16-year history of the Tour Championship, and the first since Steve Lowery and Greg Norman in 1994 at The Olympic Club.

His 4-iron from 205 yards landed about 25 feet short of the hole and broke about 4 feet before curling in the back edge. That put Kelly only one stroke out of the lead, and the cheer must have awoken Singh from his slumber.

After missing three birdie chances inside 8 feet, the Fijian holed a birdie putt from 7 feet on No. 9, then poured it on. He made a 12-footer on No. 10, then his tee shot on the par-3 11th came about 16 inches from matching Kelly's ace.

He settled for a tap-in birdie, a four-shot lead and was on his way.

Howell tried to make it interesting by holing out with a wedge from 13th fairway, the ball flying straight into the hole for an eagle that brought him within three shots.

All he needed was a few mistakes from Singh, who made none on a day when he could finally leave East Lake with a big check and a silver trophy.