SONY OPEN

Singh picks up first win of the year


Published: Monday, January 17, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 17, 2005 at 12:42 a.m.
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Vijay Singh finishes 11-under par to earn the Sony Open title at the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.

The Associated Press
HONOLULU - A forgotten figure most of the week despite his No. 1 ranking, Vijay Singh showed up when it counted Sunday with a routine birdie on the final hole to cap off a 5-under 65 and win the Sony Open.
Singh never had the lead at breezy Waialae Country Club until he hammered a 300-yard drive on the par-5 18th, hit a utility club just short of the green and took two putts to avoid a playoff against hard-charging Ernie Els.
It was the kind of start to the 2005 season Singh wanted, coming off nine victories last year. And he was still smarting from a final-round triple bogey at Kapalua last week that cost him a chance to win the season-opening Mercedes Championships.
Singh finished at 11-under 269, and the $864,000 first-place check returned him to the top of the money list. With all the talk of the ''Big Three,'' the 41-year-old Fijian showed he's still the man to beat.
''I never could finish four good rounds of golf here,'' Singh said. ''This week, I hung in there and did it.''
But the Big Easy made it interesting.
Els made two short birdies, then an 18-foot eagle on the final hole to tie the course record with a 62. He remained tied for the lead longer than he imagined, when Singh missed four birdie putts inside 18 feet on the back nine, and Shigeki Maruyama squandered away shots down the stretch.
''I was always felt like it was going to be just a little shy,'' Els said. ''He did what he had to do.''
The Sony Open had to wait 20 years to get the No. 1 player in golf. Singh delivered a performance everyone expected, even if it seemed as though no one noticed until he had a lei around his neck and the trophy in his hand.
First came 15-year-old Michelle Wie, who was the talk of the tournament for two days until she missed the cut with rounds of 74-75. Then came Maruyama, a popular figure with so many Japanese fans in Hawaii giving him the royal treatment when he took a one-shot lead into the final round.
In the end, it was a familiar figure at the top.
Singh won for the 25th time in his career, and picked up his 20th different PGA Tour trophy.
Els made a valiant bid to win an unprecedented third straight Sony Open. Bedeviled by his putting all week, he finally found a flat stick he liked to tie the course record previously set by three other players over the last four years.
Still, Els leaves Hawaii with two wasted opportunities - a drive out-of-bounds on the 18th to finish two shots behind at Kapalua, and a great ball-striking week at Waialae that went unrewarded.
It was the second straight week the winner came from four shots behind. Stuart Appleby closed with a 67 to win last week in the Mercedes Championships.
And just like last week, it required a series of mistakes along the back nine.
Maruyama lost a one-shot lead with a bogey on the 12th by missing the fairway, and making a 10-footer to save bogey after going long on the 14th green.
He closed with a 71 and tied for third at 271 with Charles Howell III (67).
Brett Quigley, trying to win for the first time in 221 starts on the PGA Tour, also bogeyed the 14th and saw any hope end by missing a 4-foot par putt on the 17th. He shot a 71 to tie for fifth with Stewart Cink (65).
Maruyama faced pressure from trying to protect a tenuous lead, and from the large Japanese gallery that hung on every shot he hit, even the tap-ins. The crowd was so large that a marshal asked those next to the rope around the second green to sit down so the throng coming up the fairway could see.
Even more amazing was that everyone obeyed, quickly taking a knee.
But the cheers turned to moans when Maruyama missed a 6-foot birdie on the fourth, then a 3-foot par putt on the sixth to fall back into a share of the lead.
It wasn't long before it got crowded at the top - at one point, four players were tied for the lead at 10 under.
But as the round headed to a conclusion, only one man kept hitting every fairway and giving himself a birdie chance on every hole. It was Singh, the same guy collecting all the trophies last year.
''He's at the top of his game,'' Els said. ''You can't think of him faltering.''
Divots: Paul Azinger was one shot out of the lead until he was caught between clubs, went long on No. 6 and made double bogey. He shot a 74 to tie for 17th. ... Craig Stadler closed with a 67 to easily finish as low Champions Tour player in the field at 6-under 274. Peter Jacobsen (68) finished at 278, while Dick Mast (75) was at 282 and Tom Kite (75) was at 286. Mast, who got in as a Monday qualifier, was headed for San Diego overnight to try to Monday qualify for the Buick Invitational.

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