Originally created 05/06/04

Singh, Woods on a collision course for No. 1



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Vijay Singh leaned back in a chair and flipped through a 13-page news release the PGA Tour puts out each week, containing all the vital data.

It didn't matter that most of the information was outdated. Singh knows exactly where he stands.

No. 1 on the money list.

No. 1 in the all-around ranking that combines all the key statistical categories.

No. 1 in PGA Tour victories this year.

All he has to do now is climb one more rung to get the ranking that matters the most to him: No. 1 in the world.

"I'd like to get to the No. 1 spot. That's been my goal for a long, long time," Singh said Wednesday after his pro-am round at the Wachovia Championship.

"If there was any chance I was going to get to No. 1, it will probably be this year."

Indeed, there is a sense of urgency at Quail Hollow Club.

The second-year tournament, already regarded as a can't-miss stop on the PGA Tour, features the strongest field since the Masters with only Ernie Els (No. 3) missing among the top six players in the world.

That means more world ranking points are available this week, and that means everything to the top two players.

Tiger Woods, No. 1 in the world the last 247 weeks, is assured of keeping his top ranking no matter what happens this week. He also recognizes that the gap has never been more narrow, and that Singh is not letting up. If the Fijian continues to play better, he will overtake Woods after the U.S. Open.

To some players, the gap doesn't even exist.

"He (Singh) was definitely the best at the end of last year," defending champion David Toms said. "To me, he would be the guy to beat this week."

Even Woods conceded Wednesday that his top ranking is vulnerable.

"It's a fact I won't be No. 1 forever," Woods said. "Either someone flat-out outplays me, or I might not play at the same level, or old age takes over."

It's probably a combination of all three, although Woods certainly is nowhere close to Social Security at the ripe age of 28, and Singh looks, plays and feels much younger than his 41 years.

"I feel I'm stronger now than I probably was when I'm 25 because I never did any physical workout until I got to probably 35," Singh said. "Before that ... all my workouts were hitting balls on the range. Now, I feel very strong. I'm not surprised by playing golf well when I'm 41, and I feel like I can go on.

"There's no telling what I'm going to do when I'm 42."

What the world order in golf might look like a year from now - even a month from now - also is hard to predict.

A year ago, Woods had such a commanding lead in the world ranking that the points between No. 1 and No. 2 were equivalent to the points between No. 2 and No. 126. Now, the difference is the about the same as No. 2 to No. 5.

Some of that can be attributed to Woods, who has failed to win the last seven majors after claiming seven of the previous 11. His only victory this year was the Match Play Championship, where he conceded he probably would not have won had it been a stroke-play tournament.

A lot of that is due to Singh, who has been relentless.

Coming off a season in which he ended Woods' four-year reign atop the PGA Tour money list, Singh is coming off back-to-back victories in Houston and New Orleans.

"He certainly should get all the respect in the world because he's worked his game to a level where he's consistent and he's able to pretty much contend in every tournament he plays in - and that's a lot," Woods said.

"He's been playing great since the middle of last year. Nothing has really changed. He's playing really solid golf, and he's had some pretty good success on Monday."

Singh won the last two weeks on Monday at tournaments delayed by rain. That probably won't happen this week at the Wachovia Championship, where the forecast is for mostly sunshine.

The dry conditions could make it especially tough at Quail Hollow, a 7,396-yard beast with a classic, tree-lined feel that reminds several players of a major championship.

"It's not exactly what people have told me," Woods said. "They said it was short with some doglegs. I don't know where they find 'short' out here. It's a very long, difficult, demanding golf course with some pretty tricky greens."

The field resembles a mini-major.

Woods and Masters champion Phil Mickelson are playing this year, along with Davis Love III, Mike Weir and Stuart Appleby.

The only American missing from the top 10 is Jim Furyk, who is recovering from a wrist injury.

Woods knows his grasp on No. 1, which dates to his victory in the 1999 PGA Championship, is slipping. He also knows that it's up to him to tighten it.

"If you play solidly every time you tee it up, the rankings should take care of themselves," he said. "If you win, that's the ultimate goal.

"If I would be passed, then I wouldn't have won as many times as I normally have."