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Published: Saturday, 4/9/2005

Vijay singing a new tune about being No. 1

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Vijay Singh loves being the No. 1 golfer in the world.

But when it started mattering too much, he knew he had to readjust his attitude.

He hopes it pays big dividends this weekend - or whenever the 69th Masters ends - as he has positioned himself to contend for a second green jacket and a fourth major championship since 1998. He won the Masters in 2000.

Singh completed his first round early yesterday at 4-under, but never reached the first tee for the second round as play was suspended for the second straight day because of lightning at 12:40 p.m. Heavy rains moved in shortly thereafter, the weather system settled in and at 4 p.m. Masters officials decided to call it a day.

Second-round action is set to resume at 8:30 this morning.

When it does, the trio of Chris DiMarco, Luke Donald and David Howell will share the lead at 5-under par. At even par, Howell was first off the No. 10 tee for the second round and birdied five of the first seven holes.

Tiger Woods played just one hole and is 2-over for the tournament. Defending champion Phil Mickelson (2-under) and Ernie Els (3-over), the runner-up a year ago, were among 15 golfers who never started second-round play.

Will Nicholson, chairman of Augusta National's competition committee, could not promise that the tournament would be completed by tomorrow evening, although he said that remained the intention.

He did insist that, "whenever it ends, the champion will have played 72 holes. Right now, the weekend weather looks pretty good. Of course, it didn't look too bad for today, either, so we'll see."

Singh overtook Woods in the official world rankings last August after Tiger had spent a record 264 consecutive weeks at No.●1. It happened near the end of a season that saw Singh win nine tournaments, including the PGA Championship, and become the first tour player to surpass $10 million in single-season earnings.

"You know, once I reached No. 1 last year I thought, 'Wow, this is it,'●" Singh said. "But a week or two later, I won. Then I won two other tournaments straight away. It changed the whole outlook. You know, I kind of increased my lead and I said, 'Well, let's see how long I can keep this.' I kept becoming more confident and I just wanted to hang onto it as long as I could.

"This year, the focus started to be different. I started thinking, 'Hey, if I play badly, I'm going to lose my No. 1 spot.' It took away my focus of just going out there and winning golf tournaments."

Indeed, Singh dropped out of the top spot briefly after Woods won at Doral in late February. But he was back in the saddle two weeks later and came to Augusta at No. 1.

"I just figured I need to go out and play to win, that people recognize you're No. 1 by winning golf tournaments," Singh said. "I love being No. 1, there's no hiding that. I mean, it's the biggest achievement of anyone's career to be the No. 1 player in the world.

"But I have to keep in perspective what my direction is, and my direction can't be to keep the No. 1 spot, but to win a major, to win the Masters. That's what's important. If I win tournaments, I'll stay where I am."

Singh is considered among the most technically solid players on tour, although he admits his long-standing reputation as pro golf's hardest-working grinder may no longer be deserved.

"I don't spend hours on the range anymore," he said. "I have a very good understanding of my golf swing right now, so I know where I'm going.

"I hit a lot of balls when I'm working on something, but not otherwise. Like last week, I was off. I did not hit a single ball on Tuesday or Wednesday. I practiced every day for maybe two hours from Thursday on until I came here. That's really not hitting too many balls. I knew my golf swing was in good shape."

Singh is content with his game, content with his life and, for the first time maybe ever, seems at least semi-content in his dealings with the media, a group around which he has always been guarded, if not downright suspicious.

"I'm pretty comfortable with the position I'm in," he said. "I should be, you know. I don't have any worries."

Singh won the Sony Open in Hawaii earlier this year, has finished second in three other events, and is No. 2 on the money list behind Mickelson with about $2.7 million in earnings.

"Last year was great and I've had a good start to this year," Singh said. "I can't be any happier. What can be better? I'm the best player in the world right now, I'm at the Masters, and I'm ready to go win another one."

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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