Singh loves second chances

It is only fitting that Vijay Singh stood on the 72nd hole Sunday afternoon at the PGA Championship, helpless. If Justin Leonard's 12-foot par putt drops, he is the winner and Singh walks away disappointed. But Leonard's putt stayed out, and Singh stayed alive.

Then he took advantage of his second chance, which is the story of Singh's career.

Who would have ever heard of the man if he had not emerged from the depths of despair in a Borneo jungle to become one of the game's truly great success stories?

Singh heads into this week's NEC Invitational as the story of the year in golf. He has won five times on the PGA Tour, including a major. He leads the PGA Tour money list. And if the season ended today, he would be Player of the Year.

All of this for a 41-year-old golfer from Fiji who prides himself on his later-in-life dedication to fitness, who junked a successful putting method during a successful season and who has put aside numerous off-course distractions to come within a breath of golf's No. 1 ranking in the world.

"I could play another 18 holes. I feel great," Singh said after his playoff victory Sunday over Leonard and Chris DiMarco. "I feel that I'm in the best shape physically I've ever been in and I'm not stopping here."

Why should he? Singh hits the ball a mile, and save for Sunday's pitiful putting performance, has improved greatly on the greens. That has always been the aspect of the game to hold him back, but just a few weeks ago, Singh switched from the controversial belly putter back to the conventional method.

And he's won two tournaments in a row.

"I think this is the biggest accomplishment I've ever had in my whole career," Singh said. "This makes my year right here. I played well at the Masters and did not win. I played well the first two days at the U.S. Open, played well at the British. But this is it. I wanted to win one again, a major again, and it came at the right time."

Singh has not been the easiest player to embrace. He has gone about chasing greatness in solitude, avoiding autograph seekers. There was the "kiss my a--" remark after winning the Masters and the fallout from his comments about Annika Sorenstam last year when she played at the Colonial.

Through it all, he just kept hitting balls and chasing titles. Singh now has five victories this year and 20 PGA Tour titles. Among active players, only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have more. His three major titles matches Ernie Els and Nick Price for third place among active players, trailing just Woods (eight) and Nick Faldo (six).

About the only thing Singh has not done is win a World Golf Championship event.

He could do that this week. And what a way it would be to take over No. 1.

Five Things To Bank On
1. Although Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, is a venerable test, it will seem like a walk in the park to those who competed in last week's PGA Championship.

2. Tiger Woods won't give up his No. 1 ranking without a fight. He won the NEC Invitational three straight times starting in 1999 and has never finished out of the top five.

3. Although this tournament typically becomes a post-major money grab, there is plenty at stake, especially for European players in the field. Paul McGinley and Colin Montgomerie can make an impression on European captain Bernhard Langer, whose team won't be finalized until Aug. 29.

4. Ernie Els has a lot of pride, but don't be surprised to see him have a poor week at the NEC. There has to be a major hangover after another agonizing close-call at a major.

5. Eduardo Romero will clean up on the Champions Tour. Romero, 50, makes his first start in a U.S. tournament on the Champions Tour at the Greater Hickory Classic. Romero, who finished second last month at the Senior British Open, is still competitive with the younger players. The eight-time European Tour winner from Argentina is still ranked 94th in the world.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.