THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — Age is starting to creep up on Vijay Singh, who turns 46 in February and spent the last three months taking the longest break of his life to let nagging injuries heal.
But against a world-class field Sunday at the Chevron World Challenge, Singh looked as good as new.
With three straight birdies early on the back nine to get into contention and a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Singh closed with a 5-under 67 for a one-shot victory over Steve Stricker to finish off the most lucrative season of his career.
“When I show up and I know I can’t win the golf tournament, I’m going to quit,” Singh said. “But as long as I show up and know that I can win, I’m going to keep playing.”
Stricker came up short of the 18th green and had to scramble for par, closing with a 68 to earn $840,000, his biggest check this year.
Singh virtually vanished after capturing the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus on Sept. 28 at the Tour Championship. He went an entire month without hitting balls to rest a left arm wracked with tendinitis – “I haven’t done that in forever,” he said – and only began practicing for the Father-Son Championship earlier this month.
Age doesn’t stop him. Neither does rust.
Making it even more challenging, Singh showed up at Sherwood Country Club with a new driver. But he kept the ball in play on the weekend, the key around this course, and played the par 5s in 9 under during his 67-67 weekend.
Singh won $1.35 million and pushed his earnings for the year to over $18 million. That includes the $10 million bonus from the FedEx Cup, along with $6.6 million on the PGA Tour to win the money title for the third time in six years.
“Very unexpected,” said Singh, who finished at 11-under 277 to win Tiger Woods’ charity event for the first time. “I was just hanging in there. I figured if I shot 67 or 68, I would be right there with a chance.”
Anthony Kim, the 54-hole leader, and Jim Furyk did their own charity work on a splendid afternoon of sunshine.
Kim was one shot out of the lead until making consecutive double bogeys, driving into the bushes on the 14th and hitting his 7-iron short and into the water on the par-3 15th. He birdied the next two holes, but by then it was over. Kim closed with a 73 and tied for third with Hunter Mahan, who shot 68.
Furyk, playing for the first time since the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda on Oct. 15, built a two-shot lead on the front nine until a pair of three-putt bogeys. He was tied with Singh after a 6-foot birdie on the 13th, and still only one shot behind from the middle of the fairway on the par-5 16th when it all came undone.
He twice went into the rough and made bogey on the 16th, missing the par-3 17th green to drop another shot and with the tournament already decided, found the water on the 18th hole for the second straight day to make double bogey. Furyk wound up dropping five shots over the final five holes for a 74 and tied for fifth with Camilo Villegas (73).
Ben Curtis was the only other player in the 16-man field to finish under par.
Singh’s fortunes began turning on the par-4 sixth hole, where he had made bogey each of the first three rounds. He answered with a birdie in the final round, and when Furyk three-putted from long range in group behind, the Fijian was back in the game.
“That got me all fired up,” Singh said. “I played solidly. And the putter started working when it got inside 8 to 10 feet.”
That was the range for his three straight birdies that put him in the lead, the biggest birdie of all on the 18th hole.
He made small talk with Woods as they waited for the final group to finish, and Singh jokingly told Woods at the trophy presentation, “Don’t come back too soon. Take another year off.”
Even with Woods at full strength, Singh has been up for the challenge. The big Fijian has won 23 times since turning 40, and his 34 career victories on the PGA Tour are the most by a foreign-born player. He points to Kenny Perry winning three times this year while turning 48, and Fred Funk winning in Mexico at age 50.
“Winning this many tournaments doesn’t mean it’s a miracle,” he said. “I think there will be guys out there that are going to do the same thing. It’s just how many they’re going to win. Right now, I’m the leader, and I’m not quitting yet.”
The Chevron World Challenge doesn’t count, but it felt like a victory considering the elite gathering. And it came at a good time for Singh, who starts the 2009 season in three weeks at Kapalua.
The sure sign that Singh is ready to get back to work? He plans to practice on Christmas Day.
“It’s the best time to hit balls,” he said. “There’s nobody on the golf course.”