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MASTERS Worry-free Singh feels confident about his chances



Published: Wed, April 6, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Vijay Singh's car pulled up in front of the clubhouse at Augusta National, and he knew the routine from there.

He climbed the green-carpeted stairs to the Masters champions locker room, a place he has occupied the last five years.

A view from the top is most appropriate for Singh at this Masters.

It is the first major championship where he is the No. 1 player in the world, and don't think he doesn't know it.

"I'm pretty comfortable with the position I'm in," Singh said Tuesday. "I should be, you know? I don't have any worries. I'm enjoying my game right now. What can be better? I'm here at the Masters, best player in the world right now and ready to go win another one."

He knows it won't be easy.

Tough course

Another warm, dry practice round only made the venerable course firmer and faster, especially the greens. These conditions make the margin of error even smaller than it already is.

Mike Weir noticed the rough a fraction higher, which figures to take a little more valuable spin off the ball.

And that's just the course.

The guys chasing Singh are positioned nicely -- Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson right behind him, a list that includes Retief Goosen, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and David Toms also playing well.

"I don't think I'm afraid of anybody out there," Singh said. "I just think it's really up to me how I play. If I go out there and start worrying about Tiger or Phil or Ernie, then I'm in the wrong business. I've got to try to figure out how I'm going to play, how I'm going to manage my game, and how I'm going to beat everybody else in the field."

Talented field

The focus is on the next three guys behind him in the world ranking.

Mickelson is the defending champion and was loaded with confidence when he arrived Monday evening at Augusta National, having won the BellSouth Classic in a four-hole playoff for his third PGA Tour victory of the year. And there's always that green jacket he won last year.

Els is still stung by coming up one shot short of a playoff last year, although he remains confident as ever, and for good reason. He hasn't finished worse than sixth the last five years at Augusta National, including runner-up finishes last year to Mickelson and in 2000 to Singh.

"I see the golf course in a new light. I'm excited about this year," Els said. "I just feel I can do well here, and that's an exciting feeling to have."

But for all the talk of a Big Four, it starts with No. 1 -- the guy who sits atop the world ranking, and the guy he replaced. Many believe Woods is still the man to beat at the Masters, starting with six-time champion Jack Nicklaus.

Woods played nine holes Monday, holing out for eagle with a sand wedge on the ninth, and played a full round on Tuesday as tries to get his game into shape.

A victory this year would end his longest drought in the majors -- 10 starts -- and allow him to join Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the only players with at least four green jackets.

He isn't anywhere near his level in 1999-2001, when there was question whether anyone else could be No. 1, but has been good enough for victories this year at Torrey Pines and Doral.

"I don't think Tiger has played his best the last year or so," Nicklaus said. "He's still obviously the dominant player. I didn't have to play my best to win, and Tiger doesn't have to play his best to win. But when he plays his best, he's going to probably win."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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