In the Singh of things

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

Vijay Singh completed the most unlikely journey imaginable in 2005, winning almost everything he looked at. Everything except the hearts of the galleries who flocked to see him play the game of golf better than anyone else on the planet.

It's a strange phenomenon that Singh, who grew up beside a runway on an isolated Pacific island far from the golf capitals of the world, has battled mountains of adversity to reach the pinnacle. Stranger yet that little of his dramatic story has touched the public in any significant way.

Cool and aloof, Singh's personality has been described as "anti-magnetic," yet he is widely respected and admired by his peers who sweat it out week after week on the PGA Tour.

The fact that Singh has little patience for the telling of his own story certainly doesn't help his image. Neither does it help that there are parts of that story he finds personally painful.

Twenty years ago, after being banned from the Asian Tour for two years for a murky incident involving an altered scorecard at the Indonesian Open, Singh, near penniless, was ensconced at a remote golf club in Borneo for a period of personal and professional exile.

"That really was the lowest point of my life," said Singh, in a rare moment of reflection following this past summer's PGA Championship. "It never occurred to me out there in the jungle, and out of competitive golf, that one day I would reach the top. But then I knew I had no where to go but up. So, every day for two years I taught golf and hit practice balls."

Eventually, he made it to the European Tour in 1989 and onto the PGA Tour in 1993. He quickly earned his reputation as the most obsessive denizen of the practice range and eventually translated that into world-class status.

That he has become the No. 1 player in the world during the Tiger Woods era only makes the story more amazing.

This past season saw Singh zoom past Ernie Els and Woods into top spot in the world rankings. In 2004, he had a monster season, winning nine tournaments, including the aforementioned PGA title, and became the first player to collect more than $10 million US in purse money in a single season.

So what does a guy, at the age of 42, do for an encore?

There are multiple factors in play that give the 2005 golf season the potential for high drama.

Not the least of those factors is the sense that Woods' game is beginning to stir out of its recent doldrums. He spent much of last year tinkering with his swing and, by his own admission, was seldom comfortable. But as the season wound down, the rough edges started to smooth out. The last impression we have of Woods in 2004 is his win at the Target World Challenge and his accompanying assurance "Every shot I wanted to hit, I hit."

With a healthy, confident, married, well-adjusted Woods ready to win again, will Singh be able to stay on top, not only of Woods but of Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen?

That depends on two vital aspects: The potential for injury and a balky putter.

As far as the potential for injury goes, Singh never has been in better physical condition. He is a workout fanatic, both in the gym and at the practice range, but it has always been a mystery to his fellow competitors how he could work so hard for so long without suffering some sort of wear-and-tear injury. As he gets further away from his youth, the potential for a physical breakdown of some sort is not out of the question.

Putting is quite another matter. Singh always has been impatient with his putting stroke, but during this run to No. 1 he has been one of the best in the game with the flat stick.

That mastery will have to continue for Singh to maintain his position.

Beyond those factors, it will be important for Singh not to think too hard about his position or to change his obsessive approach.

It is one thing to be the hunter and quite another, as Woods learned over six years, to be the hunted. If Singh can deal with that head game, then he'll be as tough this season as he was last. 


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