AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Vijay Singh raised both hands over his head when he saw his 3 1/2-foot par putt swirl into the cup for a one-shot victory, a familiar sight for someone who has won 32 times on the PGA Tour.
This was more relief than celebration at the Bridgestone Invitational.
On the verge of throwing away a World Golf Championship, as Phil Mickelson had done ahead of him, Singh overcame some shaky putting Sunday on the back nine of Firestone by making the only one that mattered.
Three times in the last year he had at least a share of the 54-hole and failed to finish it off. Needing two putts from 30 feet to end an 0-for-34 drought on the PGA Tour, the last thing he wanted was the kind of putt that has given him fits.
But he trusted the countless hours of practice he spent last week on such a putt, and it paid off.
“What a relief,” Singh said. “I didn’t think I could finish it there at the end.”
With par putts on the final two holes, Singh closed with a 2-under 68 to hold off hard-charging Lee Westwood and Stuart Appleby and the fast-fading Mickelson, who lost a one-shot lead with three bogeys on his final four holes.
Singh captured his first World Golf Championship event and won for the 32nd time on the PGA Tour, putting him in the record books for most victories by an international player. He had been tied with Harry “Lighthorse” Cooper of England since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March 2007, a victory that seemed like a lifetime ago.
“Although I was hadn’t won, I was confident I was going to win,” Singh said. “I told everybody that knows me that it’s just a matter of time, it’s going to come. This was a six-week run, and I was geared up to win. I’m glad that it happened the first week out.”
As shaky as Singh looked down the stretch, Mickelson fared even worse.
With his best chance to win a WGC title – especially with six-time Firestone champion Tiger Woods on the disabled list – Mickelson played bogey-free for 14 holes and had a one-shot lead until taking bogey from the bunker on three of the last four holes, and watching yet another birdie putt from 10 feet hang on the edge. He closed with a 70 and tied for fourth with Retief Goosen (67).
“It wasn’t a good finish for me, but I played really well today,” Mickelson said. “I’m turning 63s and 64s into 70s, and that’s kind of what happened today. I couldn’t get any putts to go in, then in the end, I made some bogeys.”
So did Singh.
According to tour statistics, Singh was 9-of-19 on putts from 4 to 8 feet during the tournament. But he kept his lead with a 4 1/2-foot par putt on the 17th hole, setting up one more nerve-jangling putt that he didn’t want on the 18th.
“I said, ‘Just cozy it down there. If it goes in fine. Don’t leave yourself a 4-footer.’ And I left myself a 4-footer,” Singh said. “I’ve been practicing 4- and 5-footers all week last week, and at the end of the day it pays off.”
Why did he practice from that distance during his week off in Florida?
“Because I miss a lot of those,” Singh said.
Singh finished at 10-under 270 and earned $1.35 million for a victory expected to move him to No. 4 in the world.
Westwood, who could have moved up to No. 4 with his first U.S. title in 10 years, rallied from a five-shot deficit with 11 holes to play to get within one of the lead. But he missed a 7-foot birdie on the 17th, and his 15-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 18th to tie for the lead was left all the way. He closed with a 69.
“I gave myself a real good look at it,” Westwood said.
An equally impressive rally belonged to Appleby, the only player to compete in all 29 of these WGC events since they began in 1999. He was seemingly out of the picture until a 30-foot birdie on the 16th, a 3-foot birdie on the 17th and an 18-foot birdie attempt on the final hole that just stayed right of the cup. He shot 68.
“I had a putt for what I thought would get me into a playoff,” Appleby said. “I hit the best putt I could have hit without it going in.”
Darren Clarke made a strong showing in his first U.S. tournament since the PGA Championship last year. Clarke closed with a 67 to tie for sixth with Peter Lonard (66).
Singh broke out of a three-way tie with Westwood and Mickelson by making four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the front nine, starting with a two-putt birdie from about 18 feet on the second hole, concluding with an approach to tap-in range on the sixth.
But the first sign of a struggle came on No. 8 when he missed an 8-foot par putt.
Mickelson hit from the left rough to inches of the hole on the 11th for a birdie. That gave him the lead when Singh, playing in the group behind him, spun a wedge back 40 feet and three-putted from the fringe.
“I started missing 5- and 6-footers,” Singh said. “I tried to hit it as close as possible so I didn’t leave myself any putts.”
It was a grind the rest of the day. Singh badly missed an 8-footer for par on the 13th, and with a chance to seize control on the 16th, his 4-foot birdie putt missed on the low side.
But he came through on the final two holes for a victory long overdue. Next up is the PGA Championship, followed by the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize.
“It puts me in a really good frame of mind going into next week and the rest of the season,” he said.