2005: PGA Tour - Singh shrugs off Tiger’s Buick challenge

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Grand Blanc, Mich.

How good were Vijay Singh’s first three rounds at the Buick Open?

So good that they enabled him to tie the 54-hole tournament record at 22-under 194.

So good that he entered the final round July 31 with a five-shot lead, the largest 54-hole margin of his career (even though Tiger Woods had tied a career low with a second-round 61).

And so good that he was able to waltz through a hum-drum 70 on Sunday and still win by four shots, despite Woods surging into contention with six birdies and an eagle in a nine-hole stretch. (“Tiger was never really ever within five shots of me all day,” said Singh, who shrugged when told of Woods’ run. Actually, Woods moved to within two shots.)

Woods and Zach Johnson tied for second, four shots behind Singh’s 24-under 264.

The highlight of Singh’s record-matching first three rounds, in fact, was his Saturday square-off with Woods. Singh began the round with a one-shot lead, but increased it to seven after making birdies on the first three holes while Woods bogeyed Nos. 2-4.

The potential for a third-round showdown between two of the game’s heavyweights was squelched early. Singh’s lead was commanding after tying the tournament record with a 7-under 29 on the front nine en route to 63 Saturday, a round that began with a raucous gallery roaring for Woods.

“It was noisy out there, but they kind of quieted down after two, three holes,” Singh said.

Singh followed his three sterling rounds with a steady 2-under performance, but missed a chance to break Robert Wrenn’s Buick Open scoring record of 26-under 262 set in 1987.

“I wasn’t as aggressive,” Singh said of his final round. “I felt very much in control so I didn’t want to make any mistakes because nobody was making a charge (early in the round). To protect the lead is not a fun way to play.”

After staring down Woods and taking command the day before, Singh didn’t seem too concerned about Wrenn’s record. He did become the first three-time winner of the Buick Open, and only the second back-to-back winner, joining Tony Lema (1964-65).

“I wasn’t trying to break the (scoring) record – my goal was to win the golf tournament,” said Singh, who had shot 67 or better the previous five rounds before Sunday. “I just wanted to win the golf tournament.”

As great as Singh’s third round was, it could’ve been even better if his putting had been more consistent. He missed short putts for birdie at Nos. 7 and 14 and another for par at the 16th. It still was good enough, however, to tie Kenny Perry’s 54-hole tournament record set in 2001.

“I missed those two short ones and I made nine long ones,” said Singh, who made two putts from at least 20 feet. “I’m thinking about how good I’ve played and how many good putts I’ve made.”

Singh’s putting, which held him back at the U.S. Open and British Open, was much stronger than it has been for most of the year. He tied for 10th in the Buick field with 27.8 putts per round. Compare that to his season putting statistics, where he is 118th on Tour with 29.43 per round. Singh used a new Never Compromise GM2 full-mallet model at Warwick Hills.

If Singh is rolling them in like he was for most of the Buick Open, it might spell trouble for the rest of the field attempting to stop him from capturing his third PGA Championship Aug. 11-14 at Baltusrol. Though you’ll never hear Singh call any tournament a tune-up.

“You’re not really thinking about what the rest of the season is going to be,” he said. “I’m a week-to-week player. I’m not thinking about me playing well in this tournament is a great warm-up for the PGA. I’m in the present and that’s the way I think all the time.”

But Singh did take a little time to compare his game to the way he was playing in 2004.

He started the week with three victories, the same total he had entering the 2004 Buick Open. His victory at the Buick last year started a run of six victories in eight events, including the PGA Championship, his first major title in four seasons. He ran away with PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.

“I’m playing better this year than I did last year,” Singh said. “I’m excited. I just hope I can follow what I did last year. It’s going to be almost impossible, but I’m going to give it a shot.”

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