Vijay Singh was born on February 22, 1963 in Lautoka, Fiji. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) Vijay himself has described his birthplace—an island nation in the South Pacific more than 1,000 miles north of New Zealand and almost 2,000 miles east of Australia—as a “dot on the map.” It was hardly the place you would expect to find an aspiring PGA star. Of Fiji’s population of roughly 880,000, Vijay estimates that there are no more than a few hundred serious golfers.
The Singh family was six strong. Vijay’s father, Mohan, was an airplane mechanic, while his mother, Parwati, looked after Vijay, his two brothers, Krishna and Mira, and his sister, Anita. Though considered middle class by Fiji standards, the Singhs were poor. They lived in a small, cramped apartment. Everyone slept in the same bedroom, with Vijay sharing a bed with Krishna. At Christmas, Mohan and Parwati rarely had the money to buy presents for their kids. A holiday celebration for the Singhs meant a bottle of Coke on the table, rather than the water they were accustomed to drinking.
Outside of the home, life was just as tough, if not worse. Fiji operates under a state-sanctioned system of discrimination against those of Indian descent. The Singhs, whose Hindu roots reached back to India, were victims of the government’s prejudicial policies. Vijay has never forgotten the treatment he received in his childhood. He has returned to his homeland just a handful of times since leaving more than two decades ago.
Despite having three siblings, Vijay grew up a lonely kid. He was much closer to his mother than he was to his father. Mohan was a disciplinarian with decidedly old-fashioned views. Vijay found it very difficult to talk to his dad, and felt almost completely detached from him. (Vijay’s parents have since separated. He helped both leave Fiji, buying a house for Parwati in Australia and for Mohan in New Zealand. He keeps in closer contact with his mom.)
The one thing father and son had in common was a love of golf. Mohan played some and followed the PGA Tour the best he could. There was a barren golf course next to the airport where the elder Singh worked, and he took Vijay there to teach him the game. The youngster showed promise the first time he swung a club. Vijay quickly developed a passion for practice. In fact, he preferred to hit balls on the range all afternoon by himself.
With only his father to instruct him, Vijay looked for guidance to hone his swing. One of Mohan’s friends was a Pan Am pilot who sometimes flew in golf equipment and magazines to Fiji. In 1977, Vijay got his hands on an issue of Golf Digest with a photo spread diagnosing Tom Weiskopf’s swing. Mohan had always told his son to mold his game after someone built similarly to him, and Weiskopf was tall and fluid just like Vijay. The youngster found his golf role model.
Vijay began entering local tournaments in his early teens. He liked the competition, which helped him improve his game, and he also enjoyed the spoils of victory. Rather than awarding trophies, event officials in Fiji offered valuable items like cameras and stereo sets. For Vijay, this was the perfect opportunity to earn extra cash for himself and his family. Supremely confident in his abilities, he would often work out deals to sell off prizes before he won them.
When Vijay turned 16, he announced he was ready to pursue golf seriously. He saw himself making his living as a pro. Winning majors wasn’t necessarily his goal, though he fully believed he could qualify for the PGA. Most important to him, he wanted a more comfortable life. His parents, however, were furious with his news. Mohan and Parwati were counting on Vijay finishing school and getting a job. They felt his visions of golf stardom were a pipe-dream.
Three years later, in 1982, Vijay left Fiji for Australia. He had saved no money, but several local businessmen who recognized his talent and work ethic offered to help him keep his head above water. Though one of his sponsors covered his airfare off the island, Vijay soon discovered that his benefactors were more talk than action. One handed him a $20 bill and wished him luck. Another gave him a blank check for an account that had a balance of less than fifty cents. To this day, stories persist that Vijay ran up huge debts—including a slew of long-distance phone bills—that he never repaid. He contends that these tales are media creations.
Vijay didn’t go to Australia alone. Now married, he was accompanied by his wife, Ardena. She would be an important source of support as he struggled to make it big.
A scratch golfer, Vijay had easily been Fiji’s best player. But in the Land Down Under, he stood out only because of his limited attire. Vijay once played an entire week in the same pair of pants. He also saved money by carrying his own bag and by using the same ball for an entire tournament. Competing in Australia’s tour school, Vijay raised his level of play as the competition around him stiffened. Occasionally, he found his way into a pro-am. Strong performances in these events confirmed for Vijay that his potential was real. They also put cash in his pocket.
After a while, Vijay grew tired of Australia. Not only did he want to test his game against better players, but he still felt the sting of racism. Though Vijay had earned his tour card, there were many clubs that would not allow him to use their facilities. He often had to practice on public soccer and rugby fields.
Vijay’s next stop was the Asian Tour, where his development continued. When he was on, Vijay was scary-long off the tee and deadly accurate with his approach shots. Putting was his only real area of concern. Standing more than six feet tall with long arms and big hands, he struggled to find a flat stick that fit his body and a stroke he could rely on. Despite his inconsistency on the greens, Vijay established himself as a rising star. His victory at the 1984 Malaysian PGA Championship was his first significant win as a pro.
But a controversy at a tournament in Jarkata, Indonesia threatened to ruin everything Vijay had worked for. At the end of a round, he signed an incorrect scorecard that improved his score by a stroke. When the discrepancy was discovered, he was immediately banned from the tour, which has a zero-tolerance policy for cheating.
Vijay maintains that the mistake was an honest one, while others say he was caught red-handed altering his score. As Vijay explains, he had played poorly most of the day, and when handed the scorecard, he scribbled his name in disgust and walked away. The kid keeping the card was the son of an important figure in Indonesia, so implicating him was politically tricky. Vijay wrote letters of appeal to the Asian Tour but got no response.
ON THE RISE
With nowhere to go, Vijay got a job as the pro at the club in the jungles of Malaysia. His and Ardena’s new hometown of Keningau was nearly three hours from civilization. Ironically, this was where Vijay found his game. Since the demand for lessons was almost non-existent, he spent nearly all of his first 18 months practicing. His swing became more consistent, and he acquired a better feel for his strengths and weaknesses.
Vijay eventually moved on to a more prominent club, where he taught far more often and in turn earned higher wages. Some of the cash also came on course from head-to-head matches. His most nerve-racking moment came with nearly $1,000 on the line. All square heading to the par-5 18th, Vijay bombed his drive out of bounds. Staring at a bet he couldn’t cover, he managed to make par. Meanwhile, his competitor hit two balls in the water. Vijay walked away with a month’s worth of pay—and weathered the type of crushing pressure that would greet him years later on the PGA Tour.
All along, Vijay accepted assistance from just about anyone who offered it. No one was more helpful than Chan Han, a pro at the Royal Johor County Club in Malaysia. Han let Vijay use the driving range for free. With his insatiable appetite for pounding practice balls, Vijay took full advantage of his friend’s generosity.
Vijay’s next job was at a golf camp sponsored by Shell Oil. While there, he made a lot of friends, including many from Europe. Playing with them inspired an idea. Vijay decided to try to qualify for the 1987 British Open, scheduled for Muirfield in Scotland. He flew there with £3,000, practiced for four weeks, and then missed the cut. Dejected, he stayed in Scotland and worked as a bouncer at the Amphitheater nightclub in Edinburgh. Outside of the occasional switchblade-wielding drunk, Vijay didn’t encounter any serious trouble.
Vijay ultimately hooked on with a sponsor, Red Baron, which funded a trip to Africa to compete on the Safari Tour. Vijay shocked fans by capturing his first event, the 1988 Nigerian Open. Africaners cheered him loudly—a man of color had never won the tournament before. Vijay rushed to a phone to call Ardena. The purse from the tournament was enough to pay off almost all the money he owed. When Vijay finished high in his next few events, he and Ardena agreed he should give the European Tour a shot.
Husband and wife reunited for Vijay's next daunting challenge. The European Tour was enjoying a rebirth thanks to a new generation of stars, including Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam and Jesper Parnevik. Vijay fell flat on his face in his first attempt to make it through tour school and join them. Ardena helped him through every disappointing step of the way. She caddied for Vijay, pulling his bag along in a cart. On the range, she would read a book while he hit ball after ball.
The couple next went to Sweden, where they received a lot of good counsel from Parnevik. Vijay won the tour school there to get his playing card. He joined the European Tour in the later part of 1988. Life was grand. The Singhs lived in London, and Vijay felt he was on the verge of a breakthrough. He recorded an ace during an event in France and drove away with a Volvo, which he then sold.
The next four years saw Vijay gain more experience under tournament pressure. He owed a lot to players like Ballesteros and Fulton Allem, who recognized his vast potential and often worked one-on-one with him. Vijay won four times in 1989, at the Volvo Open di Firenze, Ivory Coast Open, Nigerian Open and Zimbabwe Open. He also finished tied for 23rd at the British Open. After taking the El Bosque Open the following year. Vijay then improved to a tie for 12th at the British. In 1991, he grabbed Morocco’s King Hassan Trophy. Three more victories in 1992, two in Europe and one in Asia, filled out Vijay’s international resumé quite nicely.
But Vijay was growing tired of his globetrotting lifestyle. He and Ardena now had a son, Qass, born two years earlier. That made traveling much more difficult. Vijay also hungered to test himself against the top U.S. players on the PGA circuit.
He made his first serious attempt to earn his tour card in 1993. Vijay played in four PGA events that year, making the cut in all of them, including a tie for 7th at the Memorial, the prestigious tournament hosted by Jack Nicklaus. Now Vijay planned to focus his full efforts in America, and it was a good bet that U.S. courses would suit his game well. He was generally long and straight off the tee, and because he hit a high ball, he could attack the PGA’s receptive greens with his approach shots. As usual, putting would be his biggest challenge.
Vijay served notice that he was for real early in the ’93 season with a tie for second at the Nestle Invitational. Four months later he broke through at the Buick Classic for his first PGA victory, defeating Mark Wiebe on their third extra hole. He and Wiebe both began Sunday five strokes behind Duffy Waldorf and Lee Janzen. Vijay sizzled through his round, converting six birdies to card a 66. He then watched as the co-leaders fell apart. When Wiebe matched Vijay's round, the pair squared off in a playoff. Vijay rolled in a four-foot birdie putt on the par-4 11th for the win—and secured his tour card.
Vijay took another important step in August at the PGA Championship at Inverness. On Friday, he fired a 63 to set the course record and vault to the top of the leader board. His round tied Raymond Floyd, Gary Player and Bruce Crampton for the lowest 18-hole score in tournament history. Though Paul Azinger eventually overtook the field to capture his first major, Vijay opened a lot of eyes with his fourth-place finish. Months later, he was voted the PGA’s Rookie of the Year.
Eager to avoid the sophomore jinx, Vijay continued his kamikaze practice regimen heading into 1994. But for the first time in his career, the injury bug bit him hard. A bad back and sore neck limited his time at the range and affected his tournament schedule. Vijay didn’t win once and registered only three Top 10 finishes in 21 appearances. On the bright side, he learned a valuable lesson about staying in peak condition.
Vijay bounced back in 1995 with two victories, first out west at the Phoenix Open and then in a repeat at the Buick in New York. He also posted his first year of more than $1 million in winnings. Though he failed to notch any wins the following season, he still made important progress. Vijay was beginning to gain the consistency needed for sustained success on tour. While his ability to shoot low scores went unchanged, he was thinking his way through rounds more effectively. He was at his best in the final three majors of the year, producing a tie for 7th at the U.S. Open, a tie for 11th at the British Open and a tie for 5th at the PGA.
His fine play earned him his second invitation to the international squad for the Presidents Cup, which pitted a team of top Americans against players from Zimbabwe, Australia, Fiji, South Africa, Japan and New Zealand. The U.S. had run away with the trophy two years earlier. Without Greg Norman and Ernie Els in the fold, interinternational captain Peter Thomson relied heavily on Vijay this time around. In fact, he was tabbed to face Fred Couples in the final match on Sunday for all the marbles. The day ended on a painful note for Vijay when Couples snaked in a 25-putt on 17 to retain the Cup for the U.S.
Vijay shrugged off the disappointment of the Presidents Cup and refocused on the upcoming season. Feeling he needed to improve his strength and endurance, he hired Randy Warren as his personal trainer. The hard work paid off. In 1997, Vijay won twice and surpassed $1 million in earnings. His first victory came at the Memorial, which was shortened to three rounds by bad weather. Four strokes off the lead after Thursday, he shot 65 and 67 to overcome Norman and Jim Furyk. Two months later, Vijay carded a 66 on Sunday to take the Buick Open at the Warwick Country Club in Michigan. Later in the year he also captured the South African Open and the World Match Play Championship.
MAKING HIS MARK
Heading into 1998, the flat stick was the one thing keeping Vijay from ascending to the next level. He was regarded as one of the tour’s most solid ball strikers, but all too often he failed to convert birdie opportunities or save pars because of his putting. That was no more evident than at the Masters, when Vijay went home early after rounds of 76 and 80. He remained in a funk for nearly two months, and headed into June’s Western Open searching for answers. On the practice green before the tournament, Ardena watched as Vijay fooled around with a cross-handed putting grip. He mentioned that he had employed it early in his career, and she wondered aloud why he had abandoned it. With noting to lose, Vijay gave it a try. He shot 15-under at Cog Hill Country Club to finish second.
Armed with newfound confidence, Vijay played well in his next three events and entered the PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club with thoughts of contending. After an opening-round 70, he shot a course-record 66 on Friday. Vijay posted a 67 the following day to grab a share of the lead with Steve Stricker. His final round was a study in consistency, as he fashioned a workmanlike 68 to beat Stricker by two strokes. As he walked to the 18th green, the crowd chanted, “Vijay! Vijay! Vijay!”
Vijay didn’t have a lot to say afterwards, which didn’t surprise the media. He had developed a reputation as the tour’s mystery man. He wasn’t much of an interview, and tracking him down for a quote was often a chore. Among his fellow tour players, by contrast, Vijay had a contingent of friends who were fiercely loyal to him. At the same time, there was a group of pros who refused to forgive him for the supposed cheating incident on the Asian Tour.
Vijay was quiet in victory again a week later after capturing the title at the Sprint International. He nearly won for a third straight time at the Tour Championship, but lost to Hal Sutton in a playoff. Still, the finish helped push his final ’98 earnings over $2 million, second only to David Duval and ahead of stars like Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Despite his excellent showing, however, Vijay remained an unknown commodity to most golf fans. Woods was easily golf's most popular player, both for his booming game and his well tailored public persona. Though Vijay clearly lacked Tiger's charisma—most notably with the media—he was proving that silence could indeed be golden.
The 1999 season was another big one for Vijay, who finished in the Top 10 in 11 events and again went over $2 million in winnings. The highlight of the year was the Honda Classic. Nine strokes off the lead going into the weekend, Vijay stormed back with rounds of 68 and 69 to claim his eighth PGA victory. Runner-up Payne Stewart finished second at Coral Spring for the fifth time of his career. The summer of ’99 was also notable for Vijay’s performance at the U.S. Open. Demonstrating fine touch on Pinehurst’s lightning-fast greens, he ended the tournament tied for third.
Vijay kept his Open experience in the back of his mind as he prepared for 2000. Outside of a few good showings, he didn’t do much in the first few months of the year, but he had his eye on the Masters. Believing Augusta’s forgiving fairways and reachable par-5s played to his strengths, he knew if he got hot with the putter, the tournament could be his.
After opening the
tourney with a even-par 72, Vijay strung together impressive rounds on
Friday and Saturday to put himself in contention on Sunday. Also lurking were
Woods, Els and Duval. Vijay never blinked. Greeted by a message from Qass
(“Papa, Trust Your Swing”) taped to his bag, he shot a 69
to capture his first green jacket. He ended the round in style with an
18-foot birdie putt on no. 18.
But not everyone shared in the celebration of Vijay’s second major. A story surfaced that he cursed at a reporter in the parking lot after his Masters victory. Sports Illustrated ran a feature that drudged up the Jakarta cheating accusations. Els was so upset by the article’s slant that he wrote a letter to SI defending his friend. Vijay preferred to stay out of the fray. In his opinion, the battle lines had been drawn, and the best way to handle the situation was to withdraw further from the media.
Vijay's silence helped diffuse the controversy, and it appeared that the ’00 season would wind down without much fanfare—until the Presidents Cup in September. For several years, golf fans had been hoping for a worthy rival to media darling Woods. Taciturn Vijay was now being viewed by some as a perfect adversary. The hype gained momentum when the two met for a singles match at the Robert Trent Jones Country Club in Virginia. Vijay’s caddie, Paul Tesori, donned a hat that read, “Tiger Who?” Angered by the slight, Woods won 2 and 1. Some claimed the match demonstrated that Vijay didn’t belong in the same class as Tiger.
Though Vijay didn’t win again in 2000—he did get a W overseas at the Johnnie Walker Taiwan Open—he heated up in November to set a new career-high in earnings, $2,573,835. In 2001, he pushed that total past $3 million, good for fourth on the PGA money list. Vijay went the entire year without a victory, but his 14 Top-10’s were best on the tour. His highest finish was a second to Woods at the Players Championship. On foreign soil, he won the Carlsberg Malaysian Open and the Clatex Singapore Masters.
The 2002 season saw Vijay return to the winner’s circle at the Shell Open. Firing four rounds under 70, he shot 22-under to collect the top prize of $720,000. Two weeks later, he finished seventh in the Masters, though he left Augusta thinking he might have let one slip away. Heading into Sunday at 9-under, he gave four strokes back to par and limped home with a 76.
Vijay played unevenly over the next eight months. Strong performances in the Memorial, PGA and WGC-American Express Championship were offset by missed cuts in the Players Championship, Byron Nelson Classic, Buck Classic and British Open. He entered the season-ending Tour Championship hoping to regain his form. He did just that, posting a pair of 65’s on the way to a two-stroke victory over Charles Howell III. The payday raised his yearly winnings to more than $3.7 million.
Vijay built on that momentum in 2003. In his third event of the season, the Phoenix Open, he tamed the TPC of Scottsdale at 23-under, including a blistering 63 on Sunday. The key to the round was his putting—he fired a 29 on the front thanks to eight one-putts. Vijay got his second victory of the year at the Byron Nelson in Texas. Three sub-70 rounds gave him a one-stroke edge entering Sunday, and then he held off a charge by his buddy, Nick Price, to collect the $1,008,000 first-prize purse. Vijay, who had celebrated his birthday three months earlier, notched his first tour win as a 40-year-old.
Few people, however, were talking about his hot start to the year. A month earlier, Vijay had made worldwide headlines when he criticized the decision to let Annika Sorenstam play in the Colonial in Texas. Among his comments to the media, he admitted that he hoped Sorenstam missed the cut, if the same fate befell him. When only the first half of his quote hit the papers, Vijay was branded a male chauvinist and the prototypical spoiled PGA player.
When the controversy mushroomed out of control, he withdrew from the Fort Worth tournament. Playing in a charity event in Pennsylvania a short time later, Vijay became angry when asked again about the Colonial flap. Incensed at reporters for fanning the flames, he staged a personal boycott of the media, telling PGA officials he would appear at press conferences only when leading after three rounds of a tournament.
Fans also joined the fray. At the U.S. Open, Vijay shot a 63 on Friday to grab a share of the lead with Furyk. Their 7-under 133 set the tournament record for best score after 36 holes. But the buzz afterward was about a heckler on no. 14, who razzed Vijay about the Sorenstam affair. He said he never heard the derogatory remark. His play suffered over the weekend nonetheless, as he wound up tied for 20th.
Vijay rebounded with a series excellent performances, including a tie for second in the British Open, his best finish there to date. He was actually one of several big-name players with a chance to win the championship, but unheralded Ben Curtis stole the Claret Jug with a Sunday 69. Unphased, Vijay picked up two more victories in ’03, at the John Deere Classic and the Funai Classic. In the first, rain on Saturday forced him to log 23 holes on Sunday and the remaining 13 on Monday. His final-round 65 secured him the winner’s check of $630,000, and temporarily put him at the top of the money list, an important goal for him.
Woods was the tour’s reigning money leader, and Vijay believed that seizing Tiger’s crown would go a long way in confirming his status as one of the game’s elite players. When he tied for 5th at the Tour Championship, he raised his earning to more than $7.5 million. It was the richest year of his career, but would it impress Vijay's critics?
Not surprisingly, he didn't want to leave anything to chance. When the season concluded, it was back to the range for Vijay. Around the tour, he was drawing comparisons to Ben Hogan, in terms of his obsession with practice. Players looking for him before or after a round didn’t have to go any farther than the range. Most of the time, Vijay held court, instructing others about how to get better. But he also listened to advice from friends. In 2003, for instance, Price had corrected a slight flaw at the top of Vijay’s swing, which helped him re-introduce his reliable fade to his game.
Heading into 2004, Vijay's standing as legendary practice player was secure. His goal was to cement his reputationas a legendary champion. As usual, his success would come down to putting. Vijay opened strong, finishing second in the Mercedes Championships. His second round at Kapalua left the gallery in awe, as he birdied every hole coming home starting on no. 12.
A month later, Vijay closed out the field at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with a 69 on Sunday. At the Masters in April, he recovered from opening scores of 75 and 73 to tie for 6th, though he never really had a chance to catch Phil Mickelson, who earned his first major title. In fact, Lefty, finally delivering on his awesome potential, was the hot story early in the ’04 season.
But the spotlight turned to Vijay in the weeks following Augusta, as he won the Shell Houston Open and HP Classic of New Orleans in succession. Both events saw the final round moved to Monday because of rain, and on both occasions Vijay climbed the leader board to claim victory. With the pair of wins, he surpassed $4 million for the year.
Vijay entered the U.S. Open thinking he was primed for another major. But after two sub-par rounds, he blew up over the weekend and limped home at 13-over. The same thing happened at the British Open, where a 76 on Saturday doomed him to tie for 20th.
Vijay ruminated over his performance in the British and decided the blame lay with an old nemesis, his putter. After beginning the year ranked respectably in putting stats, he had dropped to 69th on tour. Looking for a lift before the Buick Open, he switched from the belly putter he had been using since 2002 to a traditional putter. The change produced immediate results. He took the event with a final score of 23-under.
Vijay rode the wave into the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. He was stupendous through the first three rounds, grabbing a one-stroke lead over Justin Leonard heading into Sunday. But a funny thing happened on the way to his third major, his swing deserted him. Vijay shot a 76, allowing Leonard and Chris DiMarco to tie him after 72 holes. He regained his composure in the three-hole playoff with a birdie on the par-4 10th. When Leonard and DiMarco had no answer, Vijay took the title.
The rest of the season became a quest to supplant Woods as the world’s #1 player. With Tiger in front in the computer rankings, Vijay needed more victories and Top 10 finishes. He won the Deutsche Bank Championship to inch closer, and then took the Bell Canadian Open to seal the deal. The second title was also noteworthy because Vijay stared down Woods in the final round. With the two paired together, Tiger actually seized a share of the lead on no. 13. But Vijay kept his cool, finishing at 9-under for the W. He followed with a victory a week later, in the 84 Lumber Classic. After a tie for second at the Funai Classic, Vijay amazed fans with a final win of the year, at the Chrysler Championship.
By season’s end, there was no question who the Player of the Year was. Vijay was just the sixth in PGA history to win nine events, joining Paul Runyan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Hogan and Woods in this exclusive club. His earnings of $10,905,166 also set a tour record.
Vijay began 2005 in impressive fashion by taking the Sony Open in Hawaii. He traded stints in the #1 spot with Woods, who seized it for good with a win at the Masters. The year was hardly a loss for Vijay. He won three more tournaments, including a second-straight Buick Open, where he torched the course at 24-under. Vijay finished the season a distant second to Woods, but banked over $8 million in winnings along the way.
In 2006, Vijay suffered through an uncharacteristic drought. He won just one tour event and missed the cut at the PGA Championship and British Open. Vijay did finish in the Top 10 at the Masters and US Open, but part of his champion's luster seemed to fade. Again, his putter was often the culprit. At times, Vijay wasn't simply awful with the flat stick. Overall, he played more European events than he had in a decade. When it was all said and done, his consistency—and his 27 appearances—enabled him to hang onto the #4 prize-money spot on the tour.
Vijay started 2007 well, winning the Mercedes Championships and the Arnold Palmer Invitational before the start of spring. Unfortunately, he failed to capture another tour event. Again, however, Vijay played often and well enough to finish in the Top 5 in winnings. During the season, he became just the second player in PGA history to surpass $50 million in career earnings.
The 2008 season opened with Vijay playing unevenly. His low point came over a two-month period when he missed at the Players Championship and British Open and finished a distant T65 at the U.S. Open. Vijay appeared to turn his year around during the first weekend of August after winning the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational with four rounds under 70. The next two weeks, however, brought two more missed cuts.
Just as suddenly, Vijay caught fire. He won the Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship in consecutive weeks. Vijay took the first (for a fourth time) in a two-hole playoff against Sergio Garcia and Kevin Sutherland. He had to sink a birdie putt on 18 just to join this group, and then matched Garcia's long birdie putt on the first extra hole to stay in the hunt. Vijay nearly eagled the next hole. His tap-in birdie gave him the championship. It was quite a moment for a guy who some believed had lost confidence in his putter again.
A week later, Vijay shot a sizzling 22-under and outpaced the field by five strokes with a record-setting 262 for the event. He finished with three long birdies on the back nine. The win vaulted Vijay into the #1 spot in prize money—and put him in command of the FedEx playoffs. In fact, he wrapped up the title with two events left to play.
With Woods laid up for the year with a surgically repaired knee, the golf world is up for grabs. Vijay has taken full advantage. Once again, he seems to be having fun on the golf course . But don’t expect him to launch his stand-up career any time soon. He’s still deadly serious about building his legacy as one of his sport’s greater players ever.
VIJAY THE PLAYER
The first word that comes to mind when talking about Vijay is “practice.” He spends more time on the range than anyone else on tour, and the number of drills in his arsenal is endless. To call him obsessive is a compliment. One thing he doesn’t like to do, however, is watch video of himself. He gets very little from this teaching technique.
Vijay is more confident with his driver than he is with his fairway woods. While he boasts one of the game’s longest, most fluid swings, the key to his proficiency off the tee is a change he made in 2003. Vijay shortened his swing, thus making it more controlled. While he can still bomb the ball more than 300 yards, he finds fairways with greater consistency now. To avoid losing shots to the left, Vijay has his driver constructed with an open face.
When hitting his irons, Vijay’s top priority is alignment. He works very hard on picking a target and then lining up to hit it. From there, it’s a matter of staying balanced and trusting his swing.
Vijay probably doesn’t get enough credit for course management. Interestingly, he takes a markedly different approach than most players. Always aggressive, Vijay would rather swing hard with a little less club than swing easy with a little more.
For such a big man—at 6-2 and nearly 200 pounds, he's one the tour's biggest players—Vijay has excellent touch around the greens. He is a good sand player, and normally judges pace well when chipping, which he does almost exclusively with his L-wedge. Putting is mostly about feel for Vijay. When he begins to struggle with one putter, he won’t hesitate to change to another.
Vijay puts a premium on being physically fit. Because of his size, agility is crucial to his game. Rather than lifting weights, he works a lot on stretching and flexibility.
Vijay may not be universally liked, but everyone respects his talent and work ethic. He has proved he can win under all conditions, and he isn’t above intimidation tactics and mind games. In an environment as competitive as the PGA Tour, these are also skills that are highly valued. The majors that have eluded Vijay are the U.S. Open and British Open, but he has come close in both. It’s probably only a matter of time before he earns the career Grand Slam.
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