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Singh finds 'great relief' in early season win at Sony



Published: Tue, January 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The No. 1 player in the world won the tournament by one stroke.

HONOLULU (AP) -- The procession of interviews was almost over and Vijay Singh was in no hurry. He had the Pacific Ocean on his left, the Sony Open trophy on a table to his right and a load lifted from his broad shoulders.

He had never won this early in the season. The timing could not have been better.

"This is what I needed," Singh said after playing mistake-free on Sunday at Waialae Country Club, hitting a clutch drive to set up a routine birdie on the 18th hole for a one-shot victory over Ernie Els.

Even though he is No. 1 in the world and on top of his game, Singh was tense about the 2005 season.

He was coming off a year in which he became only the sixth man in PGA Tour history to win at least nine times. His earnings of nearly $11 million shattered the tour record.

A confidence builder

He faced a different kind of pressure -- the encore.

And in his first tournament of the year, Singh blew a 54-hole lead for the first time since 2001. He was poised to win the Mercedes Championships until he hooked a tee shot into the waist-high grass at Kapalua and made triple bogey, ultimately costing him a chance to win.

Then he showed up at the Sony Open, a tournament where he has never finished better than eighth.

"Everybody thinks, 'Is he going to win again? Is he going to win again?' I missed an opportunity last week that could actually work against me if I do that," Singh said. "I think this is going to help. This is a great relief. I can start breathing again and go play more comfortable for the rest of the season.

"I'm looking forward to the rest of it."

That wasn't the case earlier in the week at Waialae. Singh looked like he was simply going through the motions, trading birdies or sloppy bogeys, shooting even par on the back nine of his second round.

His focus was gone when he walked up the fourth green and said to a television reporter, "This game is crazy. I don't understand it."

But then came a stellar recovery from deep in the left rough on No. 5 when his lofted pitch barely cleared the bunker and stopped 4 feet from the pin for par. And he closed out the round with a 40-foot eagle putt that dropped into the cup on its last turn.

Blowing in the wind

Suddenly, he was 3 under par, just five shots from the lead.

And when he teed off Sunday afternoon in blustery conditions, there were only five players between Singh and the lead. He knew none of them would be able to run away from him as long as he eliminated the mistakes.

All it took was one burst to get his name atop the leaderboard.

First came a 314-yard drive on the easy par-5 ninth to set up a two-putt birdie. Then came an outstanding shot out of bunker on No. 10 that led to another birdie. Ha also birdied the 11th.

And then he heard the roar.

Singh had seen Ernie Els at 8 under and knew the 35-year-old South African was on the par-5 18th. The massive cheers that he heard from two fairways away told him that Els had made birdie to finish off a record-tying 62 at Waialae, and enabled the Big Easy to post a score at 10 under.

All Singh had to do was make no mistakes and one birdie.

Singh saved his best drive for the last on the 551-yard 18th. He had to two-putt from 30 feet and just off the green for birdie to cap off his 65 and a one-shot victory, the 25th of his career.

And suddenly, the outlook on his year smelled as good as the Hawaiian flowers around his neck.




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