2004: Singh leaves ’em Monday moaning – again

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There’s something that meshes between Mondays and Vijay Singh. The beginning of the work week and pro golf’s ultimate blue collar workman go together like sweat and steel.

On the PGA Tour, Singh is “Joe Lunchbox” with a lob wedge, Cal Ripken Jr. without the waggle. And when conditions are at their worst, the frowning Fijian seems to calmly settle into his cubicle. Don’t spare the sop, the wetter the better for this “Rain-Man.”

So when the Tour set out on its second unscheduled Monday finish in as many weeks May 3 it was Singh, four strokes behind third-round leader Joe Ogilvie, who was cast as the catcher on the (Mississippi) river.

Even after a lackluster opening nine (two birdies, seven pars) left him an imposing six shots adrift, he never wavered from a game plan that has vaulted the 41-year-old to three victories in ’04 and to No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.

“If you know your golf swing and you can fix it in a tournament that makes a big difference,” Singh said of his eighth come-from-behind victory.

Although open to interpretation, “fix it” as it applies to Singh’s late rally included a closing-nine 29 with an eagle and five birdies, the last a 27-foot putt that found the middle of the cup on English Turn Golf & Country Club’s 18th hole.

After another four days of delays and downpours, Singh found himself in a familiar spot, deep into red figures and bound for the winner’s circle. The Tour’s Monday man finished at 22-under 266, a shot ahead of Ogilvie and Masters champion Phil Mickelson and three clear of Hidemichi Tanaka.

Just seven days earlier, Singh had slogged his way to a two-stroke victory at the weather-dogged Shell Houston Open. All total, he has won three of his 18 Tour titles (2004 HP Classic, ’04 Houston Open, ’03 John Deere Classic) on a Monday.

“I had patience out there,” said Singh, who earned $918,000 to overtake Mickelson atop the Tour money list with $4.26 million.

“Like the front nine, when nothing was happening. I was just 2 under and everybody was way ahead. So I said, ‘Just keep going, there is another nine to go. Just play a solid nine and see what happens.’ And the putts started going in, and throwing in an eagle here and there, and all of a sudden everything changed.”

From the outset, Singh’s was a typical workmanlike week starting on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after accepting his Houston trophy, with an extended session at the far end of English Turn’s practice range.

When play commenced under threatening skies, Singh began the week with an uninspired 70. By the time the rain had relented enough to allow the completion of the third round Sunday he’d scratched his way back into contention with middle rounds of 65-68.

Singh’s closing 63 was the lowest by a winner this year and left Mickelson and Ogilvie bewildered and bemused.

“It was fun coming down the stretch with Vijay and Phil, Nos. 2 and 3 in the World (Golf Ranking) . . . I don’t even know where I am in the world,” said Ogilvie, who hadn’t finished inside the top 15 this season in 11 events.

To be fair, Ogilvie did little to open the door for Singh. The former Duke standout was bogey-free over his final 36 holes and had a chance to match Singh at 22 under with a bold blast for birdie from a greenside bunker on the 72nd hole but missed by a half roll to the left.

His tie for second is a career-best and the $448,800 runner-up check all but guarantees the Nationwide Tour alumnus will keep his Tour card.

“I felt like I was in control pretty much the whole way around,” Ogilvie said. “Then I saw him make an eagle on 15, then a birdie on 16. I don’t know how long the putt on 18 was, but what can you say. I mean, that’s why he’s probably the best player in the world right now. He shot 29 on the back side.”

After two whirlwind weeks following his major breakthrough, Mickelson, who started the final round trailing Ogilvie by two strokes, hit the ball better than anyone (second in driving distance and first in greens in regulation) but struggled on English Turn’s peculiar putting surfaces (28 putts per round average).

“I look in the middle part of my round, not birdieing 11, the par 5, and missing short putts on 13 and 14 took some momentum away,” Mickelson said. “Although I was able to make a run the last four holes, I really needed something there in the middle to get me up to the top of the leaderboard.”

– Staff and wire reports

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