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Monday, 28 January 2002
At six foot two inches tall, Vijay Singh is well used to literally towering over his fellow competitors but metaphorically, too, the Fijian’s golf is often to be found on a higher level than the rest.

It was somehow appropriate, therefore, that the first sight to greet visitors to Singapore was a giant poster of the man himself. Singh, after all, was the reigning Masters champion and had won the week before in the Carlsberg Malaysian Open. His initial promotional prominence was understandable and, by the end of the week, his overall playing prominence was undeniable.

Alongside the prints of Singh were similar-size posters of Colin Montgomerie who, like the Fijian, arrived in The Lion City harbouring a winning feeling, having captured the Ericsson Masters in Australia the previous week in his first tournament outing of the year.

The duo had last played together at the Singapore Island Golf Club eight years earlier in the Johnnie Walker Classic where Montgomerie finished second to Nick Faldo and Singh took ninth. As it turned out, both men were to take centre stage once again on the Bukit Course as the tussle for the 154,616 euro (£97,662) first prize unfolded.

They were not, however the only protagonists in the drama. The field for the co-sanctioned event between The European Tour and the Asian PGA’s Davidoff Tour also featured talents such as Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who had lost in a play-off to Singh in Malaysia, and England’s Warren Bennett.

Eighteen months previously, Bennett looked to have the world at his feet. The 29 year old from Kent had just won five times on the European Challenge Tour on his way to topping the Rankings and, having graduated to The European Tour, won the Scottish PGA Championship at Gleneagles in the summer of 1999.

But in a cruel twist of fate, Bennett was struck down by pneumonia within weeks of his winning breakthrough. Weakened by the illness, he then suffered a recurrence of a neck injury, restricting him to just six starts on the 2000 season. At his lowest point he even considered giving up the game and for six months didn’t pick up a club as he fought to regain his fitness, both mentally and physically

But having been inspired by the birth of his first child, Tom, a month earlier, and with his health finally on an even keel, Bennett, playing on The 2001 European Tour on a medical exemption, at last showed what he was capable of with an excellent first round 63.

The eight under par effort was matched by Harrington who looked on course to repeat the feat of winning a tournament the week after losing in a play-off - the previous occurrence being in April 2000 when the Dubliner claimed the Brazil Sao Paulo 500 Years Open, seven days after surrendering in extra holes to Roger Chapman in the Brazil Rio de Janeiro 500 Years Open.

Incredibly, the low scoring of the first day was surpassed on the second as records were smashed. It is not often Montgomerie has opened with rounds of 66 and 67 and found himself some nine shots off the pace. Even Singh, with rounds of 64 and 63, could not keep up with Frankie Minoza, the leader at the halfway stage.

The Filipino notched seven birdies on the inward half of his second round to come home in 28 strokes and set a new course record of 61, ten under par. His 36 hole total of 125, 17 under par, also set a new European Tour record. But, as is often said, a golf tournament is a marathon not a sprint, and Minoza was to be overhauled as the pace quickened over the weekend.

If ever a lightning delay arrived at the right time it was during the third afternoon. Montgomerie needed something special to move into contention but had only picked up three birdies when the klaxon sounded to halt proceedings. Nothing was happening, but when play resumed the Scot flew from the traps with three birdies in four holes to move within three shots of the lead, now held by Singh. The only hole Montgomerie failed to birdie was the 16th when his eight iron approach was, if anything, too accurate, hitting the pin and ricocheting off the green.

Playing partner Bennett also birdied three of the last four holes to remain in the hunt along with Swedish rookie Mikael Lundberg, who birdied the 17th and 18th to move to 16 under par and two shots off the lead.

All the pieces were in place for a thrilling final day with Singh leading from Minoza, Lundberg and Bennett, with Montgomerie and Harrington within striking distance, but from the outset Singh was in command. Two birdies in the first four holes moved the Fijian clear as the chasing pack faltered. Despite bogeys at the seventh and eighth, a real challenge to Singh failed to materialise on the final lap and when he birdied the ninth, 13th and 15th, the title was his.

While Singh marched to his second consecutive victory, eyes were focused on the battle for second. Harrington had moved into the frame with a run of birdies but his charge halted when his ball moved as he addressed it on the 16th. The resulting one stroke penalty moved him back into a share of fifth place with Dane Anders Hansen, who moved up the final rankings with a six under par 65.

Bennett and Montgomerie had fought together over the final two rounds with Montgomerie edging a stroke clear playing the par five final hole. But in one final twist of the tale, Bennett chipped in for eagle from the back of the green to snatch second place and earn the biggest cheque of his career - 103,077 euro (£65,108).

Montgomerie, who like Singh had not carded over 68 all week, had to settle for a share of third place with Holland’s Maarten Lafeber. The Dutchman continued his good run of form, following his joint seventh place finish in Malaysia the week before, with an excellent closing 65.

Roddy Williams.

This article has been reproduced from The 14th Edition of The European Tour Yearbook which can be purchased at a special price direct via the Order Form.



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