Originally created 05/11/05

Singh doesn't need anyone to tell him he's No. 1



IRVING, Texas - The buzz in golf this year has been the "Big Four," and IMG figured it could not go wrong by inviting Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson to showcase their skills on prime-time television later this summer in the "Battle at the Bridges."

There's only one problem.

Singh said no.

The reason for his rejection was not entirely clear. One can only guess he doesn't need the exposure because he gets plenty of that whenever he plays. Singh certainly doesn't need the money, not with over $23 million in PGA Tour earnings - and counting - over the last 30 months alone.

Respect? That comes from his peers, and that's all that matters.

Singh has never been more comfortable with who he is, how he plays and where he is going.

"I see how hard he works at home, not only with his game, but with his physical fitness," said Jim Furyk, who lives down the road from Singh in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. "He lives and breathes golf and has a one-track mind, and no one works harder than him. So, he deserves a lot of success.

"I respect his game and how hard he works, and it's good for a lot of people to emulate."

Furyk offered this praise after losing to Singh on the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff at the Wachovia Championship. That gave Singh his third victory of the year, and his 15th on the PGA Tour dating to his win in the Byron Nelson Championship two years ago.

With two more victories, the 42-year-old Fijian can tie Sam Snead for the most on tour since turning 40.

The only thing missing - at least this week - is the No. 1 ranking. Woods has won six times on the PGA Tour and once in Japan over the same two-year period, yet he remains atop the world ranking by a slim margin.

Singh is no longer bothered by that, either.

The No. 1 ranking means more to players who have never been there (Mickelson), or who haven't been there in ages (Els). Singh is hurt by playing 20 more times over two years than Woods, but why should he take a week off from tournament golf just to see his name atop the ranking?

"I've done away with trying to be No. 1," he said. "It seems like I've got to win five times to get up there. I totally forgot about that. That does not cross my mind anymore. I just want to go out there and win golf tournaments."

Singh can always change his mind about joining the rest of the Big Four in prime time at the Bridges.

For now, the plan is for U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen - currently No. 5 in the world and known these days as Pete Best, the fifth Beatle - to fill out the foursome (that assumes Goosen wants to go from Germany to San Diego to China in a span of four days).

In a way, it's fitting that Singh has turned his back on this battle.

Singh has never spoken publicly about this, but he surely felt snubbed at the Bay Hill Invitational two months ago when Woods, Els and Goosen were grouped together the first two rounds, a draw that didn't happen by accident. Even more peculiar is that tournament host Arnold Palmer never mentioned Singh once during his news conference when the King was asked to compare this crop of stars with the "Big Three" from his generation.

By the end of the week, Singh was the only one of them with a chance to win Bay Hill. He was tied for the lead with Kenny Perry until he fired a 7-iron right at the flag on No. 18 and came up just short into the water.

No problem.

After going four months without winning, Singh has won twice in the last three weeks, both times in playoffs by capitalizing on his opponent's mistake - John Daly hit into the water at Houston, Furyk hit into the water at Quail Hollow.

Next up is the Byron Nelson Championship, the first regular PGA Tour event this year with the top five players in the world ranking. Singh believes he is the favorite.

But then, he thinks that every week. And he should.

"When I come to a golf tournament, I feel like I should win the golf tournament the way I play," he said. "It doesn't normally happen, but that's the thought."

He at least gives himself a chance.

Singh already has eight top 10s in his 14 appearances on tour, six of those in the top three.

Furyk's best year came in 2003 when he won the U.S. Open, the Buick Open and had 15 top 10s.

"That's the mark for me of a good year," he said. "That's why Vijay is one of the best players in the world, and the reason he has a chance to win 10 times a year, 15 times a year. There aren't many players that are that talented and that good. That's what we all want to do."

Joey Sindelar had a better definition of Singh.

"Vijay is just relentless," he said.

He is much more than that right now.

Singh is content with his swing and his place in the game. More than one player this year has marveled at the ease with which the Fijian handles the pressure of a final round, win or lose. Singh doesn't need anyone to tell him he is No. 1, or that he should be. He doesn't need the adulation of the press, the public, even his peers.

He knows they're watching.

And he doesn't need a prime-time exhibition for that.