Thu, Nov 04, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Vijay Singh owns PGA Tour spotlight after stellar season

AP , JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA

The mayor wanted a picture with him. The owner of the local National Football League team wanted a word with him. Civic leaders simply wanted to shake his hand.

Vijay Singh was the star attraction Monday at a luncheon where the PGA Tour announced US$2.25 million in charitable donations from The Players Championship. It was another example of just how far the 41-year-old Fijian has come.

He was a club pro in Borneo in 1985, making minimum wage plus US$10 a lesson and practicing in his free time. He was a bouncer in Scotland two years later, stashing away money to play in a two-bit tournament in Africa, the first small step toward a European tour card, then a US tour card.

He stood before the lunch crowd in a downtown hotel as the No. 1 player in the world and the first US$10 million man in golf, a rags-to-richest story unlike any other on the PGA Tour.

They listened intently when Singh was asked what he thought about this week's Tour Championship, where he can join Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson as the only players to win at least 10 times in one year.

"I'm really thinking of taking this week off," Singh said as the room erupted in laughter.

Everyone knows better.

His work ethic is legendary, and it has carried Singh to unimaginable heights.

Despite reaching No. 1 in the world two months earlier, Singh continued his routine of working out in the gym and on the range, sometimes before and after his round. Small wonder that he captured the Chrysler Championship at Innisbrook on Sunday, his ninth victory of the year.

It was his fourth PGA Tour victory in his last five starts. The other time he finished second.

The season finale is East Lake in Atlanta, where Singh won two years ago. The other two times he played at East Lake, he finished third (2000) and lost in a playoff to Hal Sutton (1998).

"I'm going there with a little fire in the belly now," Singh said. "I think my game is OK."

There was a time not long ago when Singh and the rest of his peers would see Tiger Woods' name atop the leaderboard and figure the tournament was over. Woods had that aura about him, having won the career Grand Slam at 24, and eight majors by 26.

Singh used to wonder how anyone would be able to push Woods aside.

"Now when I look at the leaderboard, I see everyone coming after me," Singh said. "It's a good feeling."

If he is comfortable in the lead -- Singh now has won 11 straight tournaments after at least a share of the 54-hole lead -- he also is more at ease in front of a large crowd.

And he is starting to give back to the community he lived in the last 10 years.

The Singh family -- including wife Ardena and 14-year-old son Qass -- established the Vijay Singh Charitable Foundation to provide relief for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.

The Betty Griffin House of St. John's County will be one of the first beneficiaries.

"It's about time we took a step forward and did something with the community," Singh said. "If we can touch even one or two lives, it will make a big difference."

Singh has said it might take him a while for the success to sink in. The season must feel like a blur at times as Singh goes from one tournament to the next, usually leaving with the trophy.

Only Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Woods and Paul Runyan have won at least nine times in a year.

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