Originally created 11/04/04

Singh closing in on season for the ages



ATLANTA - A perfect 10 is something Vijay Singh strives for every day when he hits the workout room or the driving range. A perfect 10-win season was never on his to-do list until this week.

"I never knew about that record," Singh said of the 10-win plateau no golfer has seen in 54 years and only three have achieved on the PGA Tour. "I mean, it would be an incredible thing to win 10 in a season."

What Singh has managed in 2004 can be described as nothing less than incredible.

He secured his second-straight money title, becoming the first player in history to top $10 million in one season, with earnings that exceed Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods combined. He won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, his third career major. He's won six of his past eight starts and nine times overall, vaulting from 51st to 24th on the all-time victory list with 24 in his career.

Singh also became the first golfer in five years to unseat Woods as the No. 1 player in the world rankings, a feat that seemed almost impossible when Woods was winning nine tournaments of his own in 2000.

Woods calls Singh's 2004 run "one of the great years" of all-time. Other marquee peers rave as well.

"It's been sensational, there's no other way to describe it," said Mickelson, whose own impressive season was eclipsed by Singh's player-of-the-year dominance. "It's been amazing.

It's been very similar to the way Tiger won almost everything in 2000."

Singh, 41, felt he had more great golf in him, but he can't tell you that he saw this kind of once-in-a-few-lifetimes year coming.

"You don't really wake up one day and think you're going to be able to play like I did this year," Singh said. "You win one and then you win another one. Like snowballing. You feel more comfortable and more confident. You can't wait to the next hole and play better. That's how it's been."

If he can win the season-ending Tour Championship, which begins today, Singh will become the first double-digit winner on the PGA Tour since Sam Snead won 11 in 1950. Only three players have ever topped 10 wins in a season, including Byron Nelson (18) and Ben Hogan twice (13 and 10). All four came in a span of six years during and in the aftermath of World War II.

Singh is the first to have a crack at it since Woods had two attempts in 2000, narrowly missing with seconds in the Tour Championship and WGC-American Express to end the year.

"Being in the same boat and the same page as Snead and Hogan and just comparing against them ... really, you don't have words to describe it," Singh said.

Snead and Hogan are the perfect historical markers with whom to compare Singh. The outwardly stoic Fijian's comprehensive practice routines are legendary and might make a brooding hard worker such as Hogan feel a little like a slacker.

But it's Snead who Singh seems most in step with.

Like Snead, Singh started his career hungry and poor. Like Snead, Singh never believed that any tournament was too minor - if you teed it up it was worth winning just as much as any major. And like Snead, Singh's record-producing success didn't stop as he advanced in years.

Snead, with a record 82 career victories, kept winning right up until he was nearly 53 years old. Among his many PGA Tour records is the standard for mature success, with 17 career triumphs after turning 40.

Singh is already hot on the three-time Masters Tournament champion's heels to take over that mantle. Since his 40th birthday in February 2003, Singh has already won 12 times.

"He's played some unbelievable golf," Woods said. "If you look at the way he's played on Sunday afternoon, he's gone out there and won the tournaments. Guys haven't given it to him. He's gone out there and gotten it done."

Singh leads the PGA Tour in almost every critical category - scoring average, birdies, greens in regulation and proximity of approaches to the hole. His stats and results draw obvious comparisons to Woods' untouchable run that kicked off his five-year reign at No. 1.

"His run was incredible and mine is, I guess, just as incredible as his was," Singh said. "The only difference was he won three majors doing it and I won one."

Singh doesn't need to apologize for the victories. In a golf world with deeper talent than ever, wins in New Orleans, Houston, Canada, Pennsylvania and Tampa are as impressive as any.

"I take each tournament differently and give it as much importance as any other tournament I play," said Singh, who averages about 27 PGA Tour starts a year compared to 19 for Woods. Singh played in 32 worldwide events in 2004.

Singh won the Tour Championship the last time it was at East Lake, in 2002. If he repeats this week, there won't be any doubt that his 2004 season warrants a perfect 10.

"I'm just looking forward to starting (today) and seeing if I can reach there," he said. "If I don't, it's fine. I'll take the nine."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

SINGLE-SEASON TOUR WINS

18: Byron Nelson, 1945

13: Ben Hogan, 1946

11: Sam Snead, 1950

10: Ben Hogan, 1948

9: Vijay Singh, 2004; Tiger Woods, 2000; Paul Runyan, 1933

8: Tiger Woods, 1999; Johnny Miller, 1974; Arnold Palmer, 1962; Arnold Palmer, 1960; Byron Nelson, 1944; Henry Picard, 1939; Sam Snead, 1938; Harry Cooper, 1937; Gene Sarazen, 1930; Horton Smith, 1929