Archive for Thursday, November 6, 2003

Texas-sized duel on tap

Woods, Singh battling for PGA Tour money title

November 6, 2003


— The Tour Championship usually is nothing more than a season-ending celebration for the top 30 players, a chance for the rich to get even richer.

Not this year.

Champions Golf Club is shaping up to be the scene of a Texas-sized duel between Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, who play this week in the final tournament of the year with more than just bragging rights on the line.

At stake is the PGA Tour money title, which Woods has owned the last four years.

Singh is playing the best golf of his career and has a $768,494 lead over Woods on the money list, although he has played nine more tournaments. All the big Fijian has to do at the Tour Championship is finish in at least a three-way tie for third.

Woods believes he is the front-runner in a much tighter race for PGA Tour player of the year, a decision that could be determined by who wins this week.

"I think you'll see a very close vote, a split vote," U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk said. "It's been, 'Mail in Tiger' for the last few years. And there was no close second."

Woods was so dominant the last four years that the awards usually were decided by the time the majors were over in August.

Woods failed to win a major for the first time since 1998, and it's no coincidence that's the last time there was so much uncertainty at the Tour Championship.

Tiger Woods blasts out of a bunker on the ninth hole during a
practice round. Woods practiced Wednesday for the Tour
Championship, which begins today at Champions Golf Club in Houston.

Tiger Woods blasts out of a bunker on the ninth hole during a practice round. Woods practiced Wednesday for the Tour Championship, which begins today at Champions Golf Club in Houston.

"Tiger has had a lock on that thing for the last few years," Masters champion Mike Weir said. "And it hasn't been much of a race. So, it's great for the game. It's great for him. I'm sure he enjoys the competition."

It all starts to unfold today at Champions, when Woods and Singh play in the final pairing of the first round.

"It makes for a challenging week," Woods said. "We all have our own goals and all we can do is control our own destiny. Go out there and play, and see what happens."

Singh is the defending champion, winning last year at East Lake in Atlanta. Woods won the Tour Championship at Champions in 1999, although no one ever has won the season finale more than once since its inception in 1987.

Weir also can make a strong case as player of the year if he wins this week, which would give him four victories, including the Masters.

"If Mike Weir wins, he automatically gets player of the year," Woods said.

Ditto for Davis Love III. A victory this week would give him five for the year, same as Woods, including two marquee events-- The Players Championship and Tour Championship.

This is what the Tour Championship was designed to be all along -- one final tournament to settle all bets.

"People understand it better now," Love said. "It's a great tournament, and it's obviously a special treat to get into it. But then, it's also the best players. It's hard to win."

Not since Tom Lehman in 1996 has a player won the Tour Championship to capture the money title and player of the year.

Singh reclaimed the lead on the money list by winning at Disney, and his runner-up finish last week in Tampa expanded the lead and made it even more difficult for Woods, who didn't play last week.

"If it was a big priority, I would have played 25, 30 events each year," Woods said of the money title. "But it's not. For me, it's the biggest events we play, which are the majors. That's what I focus my whole year around.

"I'm very happy winning five or six events every year out of 18 or 20 events," he said. "That's not a bad percentage."

The money title comes down to Singh and Woods, but the vote for player of the year is a little more complicated.

The candidates going into the Tour Championship:

Woods: His five victories lead the PGA Tour and all of them have come against premium fields -- two World Golf Championships, Bay Hill, Western Open and Buick Invitational. He also is a lock to win the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average; at 68.19, it's the second-lowest in history.

Singh: He has four victories and his 17 finishes in the top 10 lead the tour. He already has gone over $7.3 million, the second-highest total in PGA Tour history. Singh is second in scoring and played the majors better than Woods.

Love: He has four victories, including a 64 in the final round to win The Players Championship. A victory this week would tie him with Woods.

Weir: The Canadian hasn't won since the Masters, but he has three victories this year and is the only one among the contenders to have won a major. The last player to get player of the year without winning a major was Greg Norman in 1995.

Whatever happens this week, there has been more balance at the top than any time since Woods joined the PGA Tour in 1996.

"I got a question last week that said, 'How concerned are you that Tiger is not dominating the tour this year?"' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday. "For the last five years, I've been answering the question, 'How concerned are you that Tiger is dominating the tour?'

"Golf fans enjoy seeing a player dominate," he said. "But they also enjoy having a lot of guys in the hunt. The fan wins either way. And if the fan is winning, I'm happy."

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