Woods, Singh hitting their peak before PGA

Nos. 1 and 1a are at home in Florida this week, preparing for what the PGA of America hypes as "the last shot at glory." Fourth major? The PGA Championship figures to be the year's most grueling and perhaps the most conclusive. Vijay Singh is making putts. Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods again. And as we saw at the Buick Open, Vijay has no backdown in him when it comes to Tiger. Their 1-2 finish was a taste of what can happen when two giants relax a little and just play golf.

Woods shoots 61 Friday. Singh goes 63 Saturday. Woods blisters the back nine Sunday. Singh screws down the victory. Now they tweak, hoping to peak -- Vijay in Ponte Vedra, Tiger in Orlando (after visiting Baltusrol). You can bet neither one is sipping margaritas by the pool.

What separates Singh and Woods -- or Woods and Singh, based on their 1-2 order in the World Rankings -- from the rest is more than talent and work ethic. It's the drive, the will, the pride and the insatiable appetite for more weeks like we just witnessed at Warwick Hills, where the two best players in the game separate themselves and put on a show.

Last week was supposed to be Tiger's week, his first return to the competitive arena after the British Open victory at St. Andrews. Instead, it was Vijay's reminder of how valuable a putter is and how unnerved he is with Woods applying heat. What's interesting is the edge that existed between them. It's softened, replaced by an unspoken understanding. As Singh told Golf World magazine's Bob Verdi after his 28th career victory, his second in head-to-head duels with Woods, "This thing about a rivalry, it comes from the outside. Inside the ropes, I want to play my best when I play anybody. Doesn't matter who."

Woods can feel the vibe and returns it just as matter-of-factly. "We're not out there to talk," he told Golf World. "I respect him and he respects me."

Respect is the key word here. Tiger has to give it up after what Vijay has done not only during his career but specifically over the the last three seasons. Singh is the first player in the Woods Era not to flinch -- and that's significant. He has not only the demeanor but also the game to hang with Tiger head-to-head.

Week in and week out, Singh's ball striking is so consistent, he can ride the highs and lows of his putter with almost a shrug. His patience never seems to waver, even after back-to-back giveaways at Honda and Bay Hill in March. He's like the running back who needs the ball 35 times a game. Sooner or later, he's going to wear everybody down and break one. Like the 63 he shot Saturday in Grand Blanc, right there with the Tiger and hordes of screaming Michiganders.

You could tell by the handshake and the body language that Woods clearly was impressed with that. This was the second time Singh had the Woods pairing and made a statement. In September at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Singh became the No. 1 player in the world with Woods in tow Sunday at TPC-Boston.

It is a giant step in detente from the days when Tiger overreacted to caddie Paul Tesori playfully writing "Tiger Who?" on the back of his cap at the 2000 Presidents Cup, or Vijay saying, "Titleist 2" after Tiger greeted him on the first tee at the Capital City Club for the 2003 American Express Championships.

Every time he wins, Singh moves another notch closer to Sam Snead's record of 17 victories in his 40s. He's one away from matching that. Never mind Snead's record. The 42-year-old Fijian is going to obliterate that. In fact, 40 wins is more than doable. It's probable.

"I feel like I'm still 30," Singh said after his win. "So I've got a long ways to go."

Woods has to hear that and be pleased, because the more he's pushed, the better he seems to play. This is the most relaxed he has looked on the golf course -- ever. He didn't like losing, but his game is in order going into a major.

"Well, I'm excited," Woods said. "I've played really well in the majors this year. Hopefully the PGA will be a culmination of that. This week was a big step for the things I was trying to work on after the British Open, and I'm showing signs. Unfortunately I didn't have it together for all 72 holes, and hopefully I can rectify that."

The Player of the Year race, which seemed like a lock after Woods won the British Open, now has some life. Singh has to win the PGA for it to happen, but he's the defending champion and a two-time winner, and he plays every week -- no matter where it is -- like he's hungry.

"You know, I'm excited," Singh said. "I just hope I can just follow what I did last year. I mean, it's going to be hard, it's one of the hardest things to do, [to] go out there and win golf tournaments, and as many as I won towards the end of last year, it's going to be almost impossible, but I'm going to give it a shot. I feel good, I feel healthy. Just go out there and do it, that's the thing."

If it doesn't happen at the PGA, there's the NEC; if it doesn't happen at the NEC, there's the Deutsche Bank, then the 84 Lumber. He gets knocked down. He gets back up. He beats Tiger Woods. It doesn't affect him.

Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine

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