Wed, Feb 11, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Vijay Singh starting to become a household tune

AP , PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA

Vijay Singh is starting to hear his name associated with some of golf's greatest players.

His victory at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was his 12th consecutive finish in the top 10, leaving him two short of the modern-day record set by Jack Nicklaus in 1977.

The streak includes three victories in his last nine starts, allowing him to nudge closer to replacing Tiger Woods at No. 1 in the world ranking, a spot no other player has occupied since 1999.

But what pleased the big Fijian the most was a reference Sunday to Ben Hogan.

Along with winning nine majors, Hogan was known for his endless pursuit of perfection, a man who was at peace on the practice range as he repeated the most envied swing in golf.

In some respects, Singh is cut from the same cloth.

"I never met the person," Singh said. "I've read every book he wrote, and there's so many stories about him. He never stopped practicing. And not that I follow his footsteps -- I don't think I can ever follow his footsteps -- it's good to be recognized in the same room with his name.

"There is a guy who worked. He found it in the dirt. That's the way I want to be."

Singh always leaves his signature on the range.

He digs so many balls out of the dirt in marathon sessions hitting balls, that when he finally leaves, his divots form a series of 1m trenches. You can easily find where he was long after he's gone.

"There is a lot more satisfaction when you try to find it, and you find it yourself," Singh said.

His practice has taken Singh to heights he never imagined. Already regarded as a great player with his two majors, the 1998 PGA Championship and the 2000 Masters, Singh has emerged as the closest anyone has come to Woods in the last five years.

Phil Mickelson has won as many times on the PGA Tour since 1999. Ernie Els has won more around the world.

But the best measure of Woods is his consistency.

That's where Singh is.

It started with a tie for sixth in the NEC Invitational at Firestone the week after the PGA Championship.

He challenged on the back nine the next week at the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston, and did it again the following week in Canada after recovering from an opening-round 75.

With a chance to win the PGA Tour money title -- a trophy Woods had owned the last four years -- Singh won the John Deere Classic, finished two behind Woods at a World Golf Championship, won at Disney and finished two strokes behind Retief Goosen in Tampa.

The only time he hasn't contended during the streak was at the Tour Championship, where a final-round 68 gave him a tie for fifth; and the Sony Open, where he tied for 10th.

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