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Singh is trying to get back in swing

Changes in shots' distance, power build confidence

Sunday, April 06, 2008

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The numbers say Vijay Singh had another strong season in 2007. He won twice, was third on the PGA Tour money list and finished in the top 20 in the Masters Tournament for the eighth consecutive year.

Vijay Singh lines up his putt on the first hole of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he finished in a tie for third place. Rounds of 66-65-73-69 put him three shots behind Tiger Woods. (Jackie Ricciardi/Staff)

The 2000 Masters champion knows better.

Both his 2007 victories came early. He won the season-opening Mercedes Championship and five weeks later took the Arnold Palmer Invitational. In Singh's final 19 starts, he had just four top-10 finishes.

"After that week (of the Arnold Palmer Invitational) I just didn't play like I'd like to," Singh said.

At 45, Singh has shaken up his golf life in an effort to get back among the elite. The former No. 1 player in the world has dropped from seventh at this time last year to ninth in late March.

He has changed caddies and personal trainers. And, surprisingly, he started changing the swing that has brought him 31 PGA Tour wins and 22 international victories.

"I'm just trying to get it to a better position on top, not too laid off, with my hands a lot higher and my club more pointing down the line instead of pointing left to the target, which I've been doing forever," said Singh, who has always fought a hook.

The change added power coming into the shot, helping Singh regain some of the length off the tee that he lost in the past few years (his driving average in 2007 was 293 yards, down from his career-best 301.9 in 2003).

"So that's a pretty good reason for me to do it," said Singh, who ranked 40th in driving distance in the 2007 Masters with a 272.9 yards per drive average. "It feels good, too. It goes hand in hand; if you feel good and you're doing it, then it's good. And that's what I've been working on."

He has seen some good signs. Singh won in Korea in late 2007 and nearly won on the PGA Tour in early February at Pebble Beach, losing in a playoff.

In late February, he suffered a physical setback. While playing in the Johnnie Walker Classic in New Delhi, India, Singh picked up a virus. He lost 18 pounds and was just getting back his stamina in mid-March at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

There, he shot 66-65-73-69 and finished in a tie for third place, three shots behind Tiger Woods.

The following week Singh tied for second place, one shot behind Geoff Ogilvy in the CA Championship, a World Golf Championships event.

"It's a good warm-up or you can say, a confidence-builder, towards the big events to come," Singh said after shooting 73-68-63-68 in the CA Championship.

"I feel like it's coming back," Singh said of his swing.

When Singh arrives at Augusta National Golf Club this week, he will have spent two full weeks working on his game. He normally takes one week off leading into Augusta, but this year he doubled that.

"I need to get my game to Augusta standards," Singh said. "I just want to get my game good."

Patience is something Singh needs as much as practice during this swing change.

"My expectations are so high right now that even with my top shots I'm getting disgusted," he said.

"I think I should accept I'm going to mis-hit a lot of golf shots because I've changed my golf swing. I'm losing patience now much more quicker than I used to. I'm trying to control that. I'm not giving myself enough credit that I'm hitting good enough shots," Singh said.

"He's still one of the best," said Daniel Chopra, one of Singh's friends on the tour. "He's so fit. He's strong. As long as your eyesight's good and you can read putts, that's all you need."

A possible return to a cross-handed grip with a conventional putter might help Singh on Augusta National's greens, where he ranked 34th in putting last year while finishing in a tie for 13th place with a belly putter.

He had success with the short putter for 54 holes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but after a poor-putting final round, he went back to the belly putter the next week at the CA Championship.

He followed the same pattern there, struggling in the final round.

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

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