They played together yesterday in the first round of the Tour Championship. They probably didn t talk much because, frankly, they don t much like each other. For all the similarities, and this is no reference to pigmentation, they are completely different.
Tiger Woods is the master of his domain, a media darling, perhaps the most popular and recognizable sportsman in the world. He is royalty, keeps his crown buffed and shiny, and normally presents only his best side for public consumption.
Vijay Singh should be at the top of the same mountain. He has won four PGA Tour events this year, has finished out of the top 10 just once since the British Open, has either won or finished second in four straight tournaments and, barring a finish of fourth or lower this weekend, coupled with a win by Woods, will capture the tour money title for 2003.
Still, the race for PGA Tour player of the year is up in the air, with Woods considered a fairly heavy favorite. Why?
Unlike his popular foe, Singh turns an aloof and cold shoulder to the media, the sport s passionate fans and, to some degree, many of his fellow pros.
Inside the ropes, he is a spectacular performer with a game and work ethic admired by friend and foe alike.
Outside the ropes, where Woods handles himself almost flawlessly while maintaining a certain air of mystery and privacy, Singh is a closed book whose icy demeanor invites persistent review and criticism.
Even in the spotlight, Singh manages to be lost in the shadows of his past and of Tiger.
Vijay has long been haunted by a mid-1980s banishment from the Asian Tour that resulted from allegations of cheating. Far more recently, he took an unpopular and unprofessional stand against Annika Sorenstam s appearance in a PGA Tour event, saying he hoped she missed the cut in the Colonial Tournament.
He then withdrew from that tournament, turned down an endorsement opportunity to appear in a commercial with Sorenstam and declined an invitation to the Skins Game, where Annika will be one of the contestants.
Misunderstood or not, Singh has not only refused to admit he might have been wrong, but has reacted as if he were indeed the wronged party.
The money title is one measure of success on the PGA Tour, but it really isn t all that important to Woods. If it were, as Tiger likes to say, he d play more often and would not finish the year, as will be the case this time around, having played in nine fewer events than has Singh.
What matters to Tiger is his No. 1 world ranking, leading the tour in wins and owning the lowest scoring average. For those reasons alone he should again be the player of the year, even in a season when he failed to win a major championship. Singh s baggage just makes it easier to discount his chances.
CHEERS: Speaking of golf, kudos to Tom Watson, who recently clinched a season-long points competition on the Champions Tour and the $1 million annuity that went with it. He donated the entire monetary prize to organizations dedicated to the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig s Disease, a fatal malady that is eating away at Watson s longtime caddie, Bruce Edwards. Earlier this week Watson was named the 2003 winner of the Payne Stewart Award, which goes to the golfer who best honors the game s traditions by professional conduct and a commitment to charity. It could not have gone to anyone else.
JEERS: I have a great respect for Joe Paterno and am of the opinion that he has earned the right to determine his own end date at Penn State. But the longer he holds on as the Nittany Lions sink, we sense his ego is not allowing him to recognize what would be best for the school s football program, as opposed to what might be best for him.
CHEERS: The benching of Kevin Johnson is coach Butch Davis boldest and, perhaps, last-gasp bid to not lose the struggling Cleveland Browns for the rest of the season. Davis is not enamored with Johnson s ho-hum attempts at downfield blocking, occasional lackluster effort and some key dropped passes. His message by singling out his team s most productive offensive player is that anything less than 100 percent is not good enough and, unless the losing ends, no job is safe.
JEERS: Why can t NBA players shoot the ball? Average scoring is less than 90 points per game thus far in the young season, continuing a decade-long trend, and field-goal percentage is barely above 44 percent. Well, there are lots of reasons - too many to cover in one paragraph. But some of the blame should go to recently-retired coach Pat Riley, who turned a fast-paced finesse game into a tedious, bump-and-grind affair during his days with the Knicks.
CHEERS: To Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon for saying his 15th-ranked team played like an “impostor” during Tuesday night s loss at Miami. What a refreshingly candid, unvarnished dose of honesty from a college football coach.