Vijay Singh’s underrated 2004 season

Vijay Singh by TourProGolfClubs, on Flickr

 
There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks on the PGA Tour about Vijay Singh. The three-time major winner turns 50 years old early next year, making him eligible for the Champions Tour. Singh, for what it’s worth, says that he has no interest in teeing it up full-time against the senior players, and frankly, who can blame him? Despite a winless season so far in 2012, Singh has put together five top-10 finishes and earning over $1.5 million. He still drives the ball well, averaging over 295 yards per drive, and his legendary work ethic, especially when it comes to keeping himself in shape, remains in tact.
 
Last week at the Frys.com Open, Singh was at the end of another solid tournament, finishing T-4 and posting a score of -14. Towards the end of the event, this tweet from Kieran Clark came across my timeline:

We all know that Vijay has been ridiculously productive in his career, but that fact was staggering. Raymond Floyd is a 4-time major winner, with 66 professional wins under his belt, and countless other awards and accolades. All it took was five years for Vijay to eclipse Floyd’s PGA Tour win total? And those five years were when Vijay was in his 40’s?
 
Coming into the 2004 season, everyone was well aware of the talent that Vijay Singh possessed. His resume spoke for itself:

  • Eleven European Tour titles
  • Fifteen PGA Tour victories
  • Two major championships (1998 PGA Championship and the 2000 Masters)
  • Fifteen other professional wins

He won more money than any other player in 2003, but 2004 was the year that Vijay officially announced his arrival, and he did it by stomping all over the competition. Take a look at these numbers:

  • Twenty-eight of twenty-nine cuts made (Buick Invitational)
  • Nine wins, including his third major, the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits
  • Eighteen top-10’s and twenty-four top-25’s
  • $10,905,166 in earnings

In addition to his 2004 season, Vijay finished in the top-10 in 54 events from 2003-2005. Keep in mind that Rory McIlroy and Bo Van Pelt tied for the lead in top-10 finishes this year on the PGA Tour with ten. In the history of the PGA Tour, there have been only six players who have won at least nine tournaments in a season, and only two of those have come after 1950. His total earnings in 2004 is also a record, assuming we’re throwing out the $10 million bonus that’s awarded for winning the FedEx Cup, which was introduced in 2007. Take a look at his results from early August to the end of October that year:

Courtesy: PGATour.com

Outside of the WGC event, that’s a stretch of six wins and a tie for second. It was during this stretch that Vijay put an end to Tiger’s then record streak of 264 weeks at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings. The two would battle back and forth for that title for the next nine months before Tiger took it again for another five years. I’ll be the first one to criticize the ranking system in place for the OWGR, but at this point, there really was no argument: Vijay Singh was the best player in the world. That may not seem like much now, since the top spot in the world has changed hands so frequently in recent years, but this was a huge deal back in 2004. No one should have been better than Tiger. No one was supposed to dominate the game except Tiger, much less a 42-year old from Fiji.
 
Tiger first ascended to world number one in June of 1997, and throughout his career, he has spent a record 623 weeks in the top spot. In his first two years, he battled Ernie Els, Greg Norman and David Duval for the top spot, before finally taking control of it for five years, starting in September of 1999. Keep in mind that from 1999 to 2004, Tiger’s first prolonged stint at the top, he won 33 times, including seven majors. The idea that someone would replace him at the top of OWGR was unfathomable, but Vijay managed to pull it off for 32 weeks. Those 32 weeks happened when Tiger was at the top of his game, when he was not only the best golfer in the world, but the most dominant athlete on the planet.
 
My point is this: Back in 2004, it was obvious that Vijay was the best player in the world, but I don’t think anyone actually remembers that. Is it because he only won one major that year? I’d understand that argument if he didn’t win eight other tournaments, and have eighteen top-10’s. Any conversation about the best players in the world over the last decade centers around Tiger and Phil. A few people mention Ernie Els, and that’s really where the discussion ends. This happens all the time in sports. Some players get a ton of attention for their accomplishments, while others get forgotten, and Vijay Singh appears to be one of those guys. As Vijay makes his transition from the PGA to the Champions Tour, where if he decides to go, he will dominate, we should all look back and recognize that Vijay Singh was not only the best player in the world, but also had one of the greatest individual seasons in sports history.

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