AKRON — When Vijay Singh’s birdie attempt on 18 at Firestone Country Club finally came to rest some 4 feet from the hole, a myriad of thoughts could have flooded his brain.
He could have rejoiced in what would become his 32nd victory on the PGA Tour. He could have marveled in the fact that he is now the winningest international player in Tour history. He also could have thought about what he was going to do with Sunday’s $1.35 million paycheck.
The first thought in his mind?
“I don’t know why I left myself a four-footer.”
He had reason to shake. Stuart Appleby and Lee Westwood were already in the clubhouse with a four-day total of 271, finishing at 9 under par. Singh was one shot better, but the
4- to 8-footers, well they’ve proven to be tougher than a truck stop steak for the Fijian.
In 19 tries leading up to the 464-yard hole, Singh had made just nine this week. Included in that adventure was a simple 5-footer on 16 that would have taken all the pressure off him on the final two holes.
So, when he stared at his final putt, it wasn’t as if the oldest player to win a World Golf Championship was thinking about where the Gary Player Cup was going to fit in his trophy case.
“(The first putt) on 18, I had a good line and said, ‘Just cozy it down there. If it goes in fine; don’t leave yourself a 4-footer.’ I left myself a four-footer.
“I’ve been practicing four- and five-footers all week and at the end of the day it pays off. And 17 and 18, it showed up. I told myself, ‘Just like home, go ahead and make the stroke.’ And it went in. I’m very uncomfortable with the four- and five-footers. But I think after 17 and 18 I can’t wait to get another one.”
Singh’s performance was in sharp contrast to that of Phil Mickelson, who squandered a one-shot lead by bogeying three of the final four holes to finish two back in a tie for fourth with Retief Goosen. It also kept Singh just a step ahead of Appleby, who birdied two of the final three holes and a hard-charging Westwood.
Appleby found himself three back with three to play but his birdie attempt on the 18th green hit a spike mark and missed by three inches.
“I’m playing much like I started the year,” he said. “But I haven’t managed to extend it through the year. Now that it’s the playoffs, I guess I’ve got a good opportunity now to get in the finals (of the FedEx Cup). Really gaining some momentum and really turning a so-so year into a good one.”
If ever there was a golfer with momentum it was Westwood, who entered the day tied with Singh atop the leaderboard.
Starting the round with two birdies, he had a double-bogey meltdown on seven and found himself five back of his playing partner Singh.
It wasn’t like it was foreign territory for Westwood. He found himself 10 shots back after 10 to begin the season at the HSBC Champions tournament in China and battled back to force a playoff before losing to Mickelson.
Westwood’s birdie attempt on 18 came up a bit to the left, resting one foot from the hole.
“I know as well as anybody what can happen,” Westwood said. “I know it’s not easy to finish off a round at this golf course because a lot can happen on the back nine. They’re not easy holes. I gave myself a look at it.”
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