Sunday, 15 August 2004
European Tour Honorary Member Vijay Singh of Fiji won his third Major Championship title when he captured the 86th US PGA Chamnpionship at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, after a nail-biting three hole play-off victory over Americans Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco, capping a wonderful final Major of the year in which four European Tour Members finished in the top ten.

Nothing seemed to be going for Singh throughout a tense final afternoon as he attempted to add to his previous Major victories in the 1998 US PGA Championship and the 2000 Masters Tournament. As early as the fourth, the World Number Three had squandered his overnight lead when he ran up a double bogey and that was followed by a bogey on the seventh and another on the 15th. But despite all his trials, Singh was still only one adrift playing the last and when Leonard bogeyed, Singh was given a second bite of the cherry after a closing 76 matched the eight under par target of 280 set by Di Marco and Leonard.

Leonard, who seemed to have one hand on the Wannamaker Trophy after the 13th, dropped three shots in the final five holes to close with a three over par 75. DiMarco was the only player among the three to break par, his 71 setting the target that no-one could better.

The contest therefore moved into extra holes and Singh seized an early advantage when he birdied the first play-off hole, the tenth, from eight feet in what was his first birdie of the day. He followed that with a stunning tee shot to six feet on the tough 17th, a hole that produced only four birdies all day, but the putt slipped by on the low side and his lead remained one stroke as they returned to the 18th. A pushed tee shot left him over 240 yards to the green but the Fijian hit a towering fairway wood to the centre of the green and, with DiMarco and Leonard both unable to make birdie, safely two putted for the title.

It was the 31st Major Championship victory by a European Tour Member and Singh’s fifth US PGA Tour title of the year and second in consecutive appearances following his Buick Open triumph.

“I would like to congratulate Justin, who played well all day and was unlucky not to finish the game up,” said a gracious Singh. “I didn’t feel I played badly today but the putter fell asleep on me. But I got a new life when Justin missed that putt on the last and played well in the play-off.”

The 86th US PGA Championship was packed full of high drama throughout a thrilling final afternoon and when the dust settled, the leaderboard highlighted an impressive week for European Tour Members. Of the 22 European Tour Members who made the cut, four finished in the top ten, and eight in the top 20.

In addition to Singh in the play-off, Ernie Els was again challenging for a Major Championship before bogeying the final hole when he three putted from distance to fall one short of the play-off with a closing 73 to finish on seven under par 281 alongside American Chris Riley.

Els, having finished runner-up in both the Masters Tournament and the Open Championship was determined to end the final Major of the year on a high. But two early bogeys made it an uphill struggle. He fought back with birdies on the fifth and ninth but returned to two over for the round with bogeys on the tenth and 14th. Just as it looked as if Els was out of the running, however, he birdied the 15th and 16th holes to force his way back into the frame. But he was unable to close the gap further and when he three putted from distance at the last for a one over par 73 and seven under par 281, his Major Championship dream was over for another year.

Els’s bid to oust Tiger Woods as World Number One also fell narrowly short. Masters Champion Phil Mickelson, aiming to become the first player to finish in the top three of all four Majors in one year, fell a couple of strokes shy as he closed with a two over par 74 to lie a stroke further back on six under par 282.

Ireland’s Paul McGinley finished on the same mark in joint sixth position after picking up six birdies in a three under par 69 in what was one of the rounds of the day. Afterwards the man who sank Europe’s winning putt at The De Vere Belfry two years ago declared himself "chuffed to bits" after taking another giant leap towards earning a second Ryder Cup cap.

McGinley, joint runner-up in last week's KLM Open, had received an invitation to the final Major of the season only the previous Monday and by finishing on the six under par mark of 282 he was right back in the thick of The Ryder Cup race with two weeks to go.

"Obviously I'm delighted," said the 37 year old, who came into the week 15th in the combined Ryder Cup Points Lists.

"There's a lot of pressure on me and I've done really well. Everybody knows what's at stake and I desperately want to be on the team again.

"I'll still have some catching up to do, but this has been a good week. There's a lot of adrenalin hopping around my body - I have a buzz at the moment.

"I've had a good run, but it's very much unfinished business."

Adam Scott of Australia was a shot further back on five under par 283 in joint ninth position after a final round 71, ten pars to finish highlighting the consistency in evidence all week.

Ulsterman Darren Clarke’s hopes of victory were dealt a severe blow by a double bogey on the sixth and he never really recovered enough to challenge for the title and three bogeys in the last four holes for a four over par 76 and four under par total of 284 proved a disappointing end to a what started out as a wonderful week.

Also on four under par was England’s Brian Davis, who made a promising start with birdies at the sixth and eighth holes but then dropped three strokes in the next four holes and, after birdieing the 13th, double bogeyed the 15th one his way to a two over par 74 to finish four under par in joint 13th place. He remains, however, firmly in the Ryder Cup race.

For much of the final afternoon it looked as if Leonard would claim his second Major title following his previous success in the 1997 Open Championship at Royal Troon. Starting the the day one shot behind Singh, the 32 year old was handed the lead when the Fijian double bogeyed the fourth after hitting a wild second into sand and then finding another bunker. Singh dropped back to ten under par and found himself two behind as Leonard had rolled in a 14 foot birdie putt at the short third.

Leonard then escaped from the long fifth with a par despite having to take a penalty drop from a hazard by the green. He bogeyed the short seventh, but so did Singh and so the gap between them remained two.

Leonard turned in 36, whereas Singh's outward 39 left him alongside Stephen Ames, and DiMarco. When DiMarco had his third birdie in four holes on the 12th he was only one behind and when Leonard bogeyed the seventh, DiMarco he had made up a five stroke deficit in the space of four holes and was tied for the lead. That was until he found trouble on the 15th and fell one off the pace and dropped another on the 16th. From there he parred in for a closing 71 to set the clubhouse target of eight under par 280 and secure his place in the United States Ryder Cup Team bound for Oakland Hills from September 17-19.

Leonard made a timely birdie on the 13th to open up a two stroke cushion as the contest came down to the wire. But, having putted so well all week, Leonard’s putting stroke was wavering as he missed his par putt on the 14th to have his lead cut to one. The chasing pack were back in the hunt until Leonard produced a shot of genius on the 15th, a hole many struggled to reach in two, when he hit the perfect two iron to five feet. But he missed the birdie putt and then failed to get up and down from the edge of the green on the next to fall back to nine under and holding just a one stroke lead with two to play. That lead was wiped away when his second shot to the last came up just short and he was unable to get up and down for his par and the contest moved into extra holes.

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