2004: Singh’s swing shines at soggy Shell

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Humble, Texas

Though Texas rains clogged the weekend at the Shell Houston Open, spilling the finish into a new week, Vijay Singh didn’t let it dampen his spirits.

“My mind is all set to play,” Singh said as play was suspended Sunday in the third round and the tournament headed to a Monday completion. “I’m just waiting.”

Obviously, he knew something. With his game in stellar shape, back to where it was earlier this season, Singh shot 4-under 68 in the final round April 26 to hold off Scott Hoch for a two-stroke victory.

Singh, 41, finished the four rounds at 11-under 277, posting his second victory in Houston, where he won two years ago. He had a share of the lead with John Huston entering the final round, and was able to pull away for his sixth consecutive triumph when leading a tourney after three rounds. He also won the 2003 John Deere Classic on a Monday.

“The last few times when I did go into the lead, I’ve been striking the ball well, so when you do that you don’t feel threatened that someone else is going to overtake you,” Singh said. “You just let your game do the talking.”

Hoch, a no-show in Houston a year ago because he was upset the event changed venues from the TPC at The Woodlands, was second at 9 under after a closing 67. Huston (71) was another shot back, followed by Stephen Ames (69) and Dudley Hart (70).

“Today was the best I’ve played in a long, long time,” said Singh, who is No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index and No. 2 behind Tiger Woods – but gaining – in the Official World Golf Ranking. “I struck the ball really solid from tee to green. Looking back, I’d like to play this way all the time.”

He hasn’t been far off all year. It was the second victory of 2004 for Singh and 17th of his PGA Tour career. In 11 events this season, he’s finished in the top 10 six times.

John Daly and Hoch started the last round three shots back. Daly got to within one stroke of the lead before fading late. He finished with 71, leaving him six strokes behind Singh. But Daly’s tie for sixth marked his fourth top-10 finish of 2004, one shy of his career-best season.

Weather problems interrupted play three consecutive days at Redstone Golf Club and pushed the tournament into an extra day. Most of the field didn’t complete the third round until Monday morning.

Singh opened the event with a 74, but his second-round 66 equaled the low round of the tournament. He finished strongly before play ended Sunday, making an 88-foot chip for eagle at the 12th hole, then finished off a third-round 69 the next morning to move into a share of the lead with Huston after 54 holes at 7 under.

Singh began the final round after a short break and birdied two of the first three holes, rolling in a 20-foot putt at the par-5 opening hole. At the 209-yard third hole, his tee shot stopped less than 3 feet from the pin, and his putt for birdie gave him the lead outright at 9 under.

With Daly on the opposite end of the course making birdies, Singh had seven consecutive pars before a birdie at the par-4 11th. As Hoch closed in, Singh coolly added a 10-foot birdie at No. 15.

“He’s an excellent player, one of our top players, and obviously when he’s playing good, he’s tough to catch,” Hoch said. “Vijay was just too tough. He didn’t leave any openings.”

Hoch, 48, who was coming off a tie for seventh at the MCI Heritage, birdied his first three holes of the last round, but didn’t get another until No. 12.

Then on the par-5 15th, he got to within one of the lead. His approach from 79 yards away landed 6 feet from the cup, and he made the putt for birdie to get to 9 under. That was as close as it would get for Hoch, who led this event in 1995 heading into the final day, but squandered a five-shot lead with a final-round 75, then lost in a playoff to good friend Payne Stewart.

“It was tough for me because I didn’t hit too many of these greens to get anything close,” said Hoch, who entered this year’s event at the last minute, when he heard Redstone had lots of rough. “I didn’t have too many birdie putts inside 15 feet.”

Daly, playing the back nine first, started the final round at 4 under. He had four birdies on his first eight holes, including a 42-footer at No. 17. He made the turn one shot behind Singh and started the front side with four consecutive pars, then bogeyed three of his last five holes.

Singh won earlier this year at Pebble Beach. He also finished second at the season-opening Mercedes Championships and tied for sixth at the Masters, vaulting him to No. 2 on the PGA money list. The $900,000 earned in Houston gives him $3.35 million for the year, trailing Phil Mickelson, the only other multiple winner this season, by less than $139,000.

– Staff and wire reports

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