2005: Singh dances to perfect Sony finish

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HONOLULU

New season. Same old story.

Two weeks into the newly minted PGA Tour season, the game’s hottest player was right back where he finished 2004, hoisting yet another trophy and sitting atop the earnings list.

Seven days after Vijay Singh squandered a 54-hole lead at the Mercedes Championships (where he was caught by Stuart Appleby), he overcame a four-shot deficit to Shigeki Marayuma at the Sony Open Jan. 16 and a record-tying final-round effort from Ernie Els to collect his first title of 2005.

Stay tuned. A few more could follow.

With six holes to play at Waialae Country Club, Singh heard a massive roar resonating from the 18th green, and a glance at the leaderboard confirmed what he already suspected – Els had made an eagle to tie for the lead. No problem.

Singh had six holes to find a birdie to pull ahead one final time. He waited until the very end to deliver, but in the end, golf’s hardest worker accomplished what has come to be expected. He got the job done.

Capping off a flawless final round, Singh hammered a 300-yard drive on the 551-yard, par-5 closing hole and knocked his second shot onto the edge of the green to set up a routine two-putt birdie, giving him a 5-under 65 and a one-shot victory over Els, who closed birdie-birdie-eagle to shoot 62. Singh finished at 11-under 269.

“The 18th hole owed me,” said Singh, who had not made a birdie there in the first three rounds. “I hit a great drive, and that set me up. It’s a tough driving hole for me. I could take another bucket of balls and not be able to hit that shot. I think it came out just perfect.”

Seemingly out of contention on Sunday, Els made a valiant bid at winning an unprecedented third consecutive title at Waialae. The Big Easy holed a 10-foot birdie on No. 16, stuffed a 6-iron to 3 feet on 17, then reached the 18th hole with a driver and 3-iron and rolled in his 18-footer for eagle to tie the course record with an 8-under 62.

“I always felt it was going to be just a little shy,” Els said. “But I still had a great day.”

Singh did not celebrate until Maruyama failed to make eagle on the final hole. The Japanese star closed with a 71 to tie for third with Charles Howell III (67).

After three rounds, Singh, who now has 25 PGA Tour victories but had never won in Hawaii, didn’t rule out victory.

“I've had my chances over here,” Singh said. “I've never won. Hey, maybe this week, you never know.”

It was the earliest Singh has won on the PGA Tour, and it came at a good time.

Expectations were higher than ever coming off a nine-victory season that vaulted him to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. And he was feeling pressure on the heels of a back-nine disappointment at the season-opening Mercedes, when he

snap-hooked a tee shot on the 13th hole in the final round and made triple bogey, ultimately costing him a chance to win. As the Big Four (Singh, Els, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson) prepared to convene for the first time in 2005 at this week’s Buick Invitational, only one will go in having tasted victory in ’05.

“This takes a lot of pressure off me,” said Singh. “If I had not won one, like I let one go last week, I would be tensing up as the weeks go by. But this is a load off my back. I can go relax and play. I think it’s going to be a great year.”

Singh, who won $864,000 to top $1 million in earnings already ($1,075,333), played bogey-free on another windy day at Waialae, and he had to on the back nine. He got into the lead with a two-putt birdie on No. 9, played a deft bunker shot around a coconut tree to 18 feet for birdie on No. 10 and hit a bold 7-iron to 10 feet on the 11th for a third consecutive birdie.

But the key was the 14th. Singh ran a 60-foot birdie putt about 8 feet by the hole, then converted the par attempt to stay tied with Els, biding time

until he got to the 18th, where he two-putted from the fringe.

Singh picked up his 20th different PGA Tour trophy. Tiger Woods has 40 career victories at 21 various tournaments.

Singh practically was a forgotten figure until he had the trophy in his hand.

First came 15-year-old Michelle Wie, who was the talk of the tournament for two days until she missed the cut with rounds of 74-75. Then came Maruyama, a popular figure with many Japanese fans in Hawaii giving him the royal treatment when he took a one-shot lead into the final round.

In the end, it was a familiar name at the top.

And just like at Mercedes, the eventual winner got a little help from mistakes along the back nine.

Maruyama had a one-shot lead until he missed the fairway on No. 12 and took bogey, then sent his approach long on the 14th before making a 10-foot bogey putt to limit the damage.

Brett Quigley, trying to win for the first time in his 221st PGA Tour start, also bogeyed the 14th and lost his last shred of hope by missing a 4-foot par putt on the 17th. Quigley, who had opened the round with three consecutive bogeys, shot 71 to tie for fifth with Stewart Cink (65) at 272.

It wasn’t long before it got crowded at the top – at one point, four players (Singh, Els, Maruyama and Quigley) were tied for the lead at 10 under.

But as the round headed to a conclusion, only one man kept hitting every fairway, hitting every green (the last green Singh missed on Sunday was at

No. 4) and giving himself a birdie chance on every hole. It was Singh, the same guy collecting all the trophies last year.

“He’s at the top of his game,” Els said. “You can’t think of him faltering.”

– Staff and wire reports

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