2004: Deep Sixed

Norton, Mass.

Tiger Woods is enough of a realist to discern his long five-year reign as the No. 1 player atop the Official World Golf Ranking would one day end. Little could he have imagined his magnificent 264-week run would cease at his “own” golf tournament – and that he’d have a front-row seat to witness the coronation of the new No. 1.

Vijay Singh, the lanky Fijian who has left a trail of practice balls from the rainforests of Borneo to the ranges of the PGA Tour, received the ultimate reward for his sweat and hard work on, of all days, Labor Day. He replaced Woods atop the World Ranking with a closing 2-under-par 69 for a shootout victory over the former No. 1 and the hard-charging defending champion, Adam Scott, at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Singh, who began the final round with a three-shot cushion, was tied with Woods with five holes to play at TPC of Boston, then pulled away with birdies on three of his final four holes for his sixth victory of the season. Singh finished at 16-under 268, three shots clear of Woods and Scott. And in the process, he wrestled away the No. 1 post from the man who has owned it since August 1999. Singh sits atop the world order with a ranking of 12.72 to Woods’ 12.27. (Woods stayed No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin index. See box.)

“I never thought I would be sitting here, the best player in the world right now,” said the 41-year-old Singh, who in the past two seasons has won 10 PGA Tour events and made almost $15.5 million. “It feels great. All of the hard work and all that I’ve come through, all of the people that have helped me – I’d like to thank them. Obviously, it’s been a journey and something that cannot be forgotten.”

Woods called the Deutsche Bank his best ballstriking event of the season, but two bogeys on the front-nine par 5s slowed him in his quest to overtake Singh. Afterward, to Woods’ credit, he graciously commended the man who passed him.

“No, I’m not disappointed about the ranking, I’m disappointed in not winning,” said Woods, who matched Singh’s final-round 69 but settled for his sixth top-4 finish without a victory since early May. (Woods’ last stroke-play victory on Tour came more than a year ago at the WGC-American Express Invitational; he did win the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in March.)

“Winning takes care of the ranking. I had a great opportunity to win today. I got it to even with five holes to go, and I just didn’t do it.”

Scott, seeking to pick up his third Tour victory of 2004 at a place where he dominated a year ago, made a spirited back-nine charge – four consecutive birdies starting at No. 10 – but at no point did he get closer than a stroke. As well as he played in a closing 65, he knew on this final day there was room for only two on the main stage.

Heading into the tournament, Singh had downplayed his desire to be No. 1. Earlier this season, he became so obsessed with taking over the top spot that he got tangled up in the process; when he returned to the pursuit of showing up to win tournaments week to week, he returned to his dominating ways. Since going back to a conventional putter at the Buick Open a month ago, he has won three times in four starts, including the PGA Championship, which broke an 0-for-18 skid in the majors. Monday, his eyes were on winning, not its spoils.

“It was a golf tournament to me,” said Singh. “It wasn’t about the ranking. It wasn’t about going out there and trying to beat Tiger and beat the No. 1 player. I was out there trying to win the golf tournament, and that was my goal starting out today.”

Singh took control of the event in the second round, when he dunked a sand wedge for eagle at the par-4 first hole and tacked on eight birdies as he blistered a revamped TPC at Boston layout with an 8-under 63. A third-round 68 on a difficult scoring day gave Singh a three-shot lead.

Singh then went out and won on a day of the week he absolutely has owned. Monday usually is a quiet day in the golf universe, but Singh has used it to do a lot of banking. The Deutsche Bank marked the fourth time in 12 months Singh has hoisted the winner’s trophy on a Monday.

If Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, Vijay Singh should be known as Mr. Monday.

The part about being No. 1 may need a little time to sink in. “You know, two hours ago I was not No. 1,” Singh said afterward. “So I don’t know what the feeling is. It’s great to be the No. 1 player in the world, but it can change next week.”

Obviously, he didn’t have to look too far to find a guy who may have a vested interest in gaining back the top spot.

“You know,” said Woods, “Vijay and I have gone head-to-head many times, and hopefully we can do it again.”

Bank on it.

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