Singh really wants this one

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

This world No. 1 ranking in golf is a curious animal. It seems to take a guy forever to get in the hunt but once you're there, you can't shake it if you try.

Vijay Singh is a perfect example. The man gave away his second tournament in a week yesterday but walked off the 18th green at Bay Hill in Orlando having reclaimed the No. 1 ranking from Tiger Woods.

Strange.

The key, as Woods always has maintained, is to be right there in the thick of it come Sunday afternoon.

"If you're in contention," says Woods, "everything will take care of itself. The more times you're in contention, the more times you'll win. And the more times you win, the greater your chance of moving up the rankings."

Woods was nowhere to be found yesterday, finishing in a 25th-place tie at a tournament he used to own. So, even though Singh crashed and burned on the 72nd hole, after tracking down Kenny Perry with a back-nine flurry, he was there to reap his reward by overtaking Woods.

Now, the scene shifts to the northeast Florida coast for the first truly important tournament of the year, The Players Championship at the famed Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass.

The Players Championship is not a major but it is the one event outside the big four that every player thirsts after. For starters, it always is the richest prize on the PGA Tour, this year pegged at $1.44 million US to the winner and an over-all prize of $8 million.

Beyond that, it is a tournament the players take ownership in because it always produces the best field of the year, routinely attracting virtually everyone in the top 50 in the world.

GREATER MEANING

For Singh, this event has even greater meaning. He always has felt he should play well here because it is just a couple of miles from his palatial oceanfront mansion and serves as his base of operations.

He arrived home last night, probably kicking himself for losing to Perry and for handing the Honda title to Padraig Harrington last week (Singh missed a three-foot putt in a playoff) but also with the knowledge he will be entering this most prestigious tournament on his home course as the No. 1 player in the world.

"The thrill is there," he admitted at the Ford Championship a couple of weeks ago. "I mean, when you're No. 1, every time you show up for a tournament, you're the best player in the world. It's a great, great feeling to be called that but at the same time you really have to focus on what you have to do."

At The Players Championship, that hasn't always been the case for Singh. The only time he has contended was in 2001 when he went head-to-head with Woods down the stretch but lost by a stroke. Other than that, his best finishes have been an eighth in 1996 and a 13th last year.

"It's my home course, so I should (win)," he reasons. "The last few years, I don't know why I don't win there, or perform better. Maybe this year. You know I feel like I should win there. I know every part of the golf course. Maybe I just put too much pressure on myself."

Of all the dozens of top pros who live in the area and spend a lot of time at the TPC at Sawgrass, only David Duval (1999) has won this prestigious title.

Jim Furyk and Singh often have said that the golf course they play and practise on through most of the year bears no resemblance to the golf course you will see the best field of the year trying to conquer this week.

"Most of the time, the fairways and greens are watered and cut normally and the rough is quite short," Furyk says. "It has to be that way because of all the public play it gets. But when TPC time comes around, the rough is long, the fairways and greens are always hard and fast. It's a whole new ball game."

LACK OF SUCCESS

Singh blames his lack of success at TPC, at least in part, on slow starts that have plagued him.

"Every year I have a bad start and end up scrambling to make the cut. I have to go out there thinking I have to shoot a low number the first day and get in contention from the get-go."

Yesterday, Singh paid the price for aggressive play at Bay Hill and lost out on a championship he is desperate to win. Arnold Palmer gave Singh an opportunity to play in his tournament in 1993 when exemptions were hard to come by, so Bay Hill holds a special place in Singh's heart.

But so does the monster that lurks this week at Sawgrass. The No. 1 player in the world gets only one home game a year and he wants to make it his own.


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