Vijay Singh became the fourth European Tour Member to win a World Golf Championships event when he held off the determined challenges from Lee Westwood and Stuart Appleby to win the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational.
Singh saw off a bout of nerves and a world-class field to win the title by a single stroke from Westwood and Appleby, who both had birdie chances on the final hole but neither putt dropped.
The Fijian shot a two under par, final-round 68 at the Firestone Country Club to finish ten under par to edge out overnight co-leader Westwood and fast-finishing Appleby.
Phil Mickelson, who had also started the day with a share of the lead, slipped back to a tie for fourth place with Retief Goosen after finishing with back-to-back bogeys.
The victory, the Fijian’s first since taking the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March 2007, and 32nd on the US PGA Tour, makes Singh the most successful international player of all time after passing Englishman Harry Cooper.
His victory also puts him alongside Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Henrik Stenson as European Tour winners of WGC events and capped an outstanding tournament for European Tour Members with six finishing in the top ten. While Singh toped the pile, Westwood’s joint second place, Retief Goosen’s share of fourth, Darren Clarke’s joint sixth, Paul Casey’s joint eighth and Miguel Angel Jimenez in joint tenth, all deserve credit for impressive performances.
“I’m really relieved,” Singh said. “I had a good finish there at the end but I kept hitting a lot of good shots, and my putting was not the best all day, although I made a lot of birdies on the front nine.
“I hit it pretty close but towards the back nine I started missing those four-footers and five-footers, and I was wondering if, I tried to hit it as close as possible so I didn't leave myself a putt.
“But I was very confident because I practiced so hard last week on the putting, and I kept telling myself, put the stroke you've been putting with. At the end of the day, it paid off.”
The leading trio began their final rounds at eight under par, one stroke in front of Appleby with first-round leader Goosen another two shots back on five under.
Westwood, playing alongside Singh in the group behind Mickelson, began with a birdie at the opening hole and all three leaders birdied the second - for Singh the first of three in a row that sent him into the outright lead at 11 under.
Westwood began to unravel a little with a bogey at the par-four fourth, and a double bogey followed at the par-three seventh as he slipped to seven under, five shots adrift of Singh and four behind Mickelson.
Yet Westwood was not finished and at the next hole, he birdied as Singh bogeyed and the pattern was repeated at the 11th as the Englishman moved to nine under and the Fijian dropped to ten under.
Mickelson birdied the 11th, Singh rejoining him at 11 under with a birdie at the 12th, which Westwood parred.
The 13th saw Westwood birdie and Singh bogey and when Mickelson dropped his first shot of the day at the 15th, all three were tied again at ten under.
Nerves were clearly affecting all the leaders as Goosen and Appleby began to close the gap on the front three, both men taking birdies at the 16th to move to eight under, with Miguel Angel Jiménez, Darren Clarke and Australian Peter Lonard finished at seven under.
The momentum swung away from Westwood yet again at the 14th when he used his putter from the fringe of the green for his third shot, uphill and 46 feet from the hole. He came up 17 feet short, missing the par putt by a fraction to send him behind a shot from the lead.
Mickelson found a fairway bunker at the 17th, laid up on the fairway and sent his approach to back fringe from which he could only manage bogey, while playing partner Appleby kept applying the pressure with birdie.
Westwood scrambled par at the 16th having reached the green from the rough and Singh missed a birdie putt from seven feet.
It left Singh in front at ten under with two to play, one shot ahead of Westwood, Mickelson and Appleby.
Mickelson found the trees to the right off the 18th tee and then a bunker front and left of the green, from which he reached the right fringe 25 feet from the hole. His par putt missed to send him to eight under while Appleby just missed his birdie putt from 18 feet, tapping in to finish at nine under and leaving Mickelson out of the running.
Singh began the last with a one-shot lead and he had a birdie putt to win from 26 feet but left it short by around four feet. That gave Westwood a chance to force a play-off from 16feet but he pulled his putt wide and Singh needed to hole out from just four inches for victory. He held his nerve.
Westwood’s consolation was a climb to the top of The European Tour Order of Merit and he can head to the US PGA with his head held high after the way he fought back from a double bogey which looked to have killed his chances.
“I got off to a great start again, then made a complete hash of the seventh after that,” he admitted. “And then I was really sort of back against the wall out of it, five behind. But I came back with a nice birdie on the next, and I just thought, dig in there and see what happens.
“I gave myself a real good look at it. I was pleased with how I fought back. I know as well as anybody what can happen.”
Paul Casey posted the low round of the day, a five under par 65 that earned him a tie for eighth place at six under for the tournament thanks to a bogey-free final round.
“The lack of bogeys today, that was good,” Casey said. “The goal was to get top ten.
“I’m just very, very happy with that. The whole week got better as it went on. I started with a triple on the first day on the first hole, which is about as bad as you can start, and it’s gotten better since then.”
A double bogey at the par-five 16th took the momentum away from Ian Poulter as he closed with a round of 71 to finish the tournament two under par but Open Champion Padraig Harrington completed his preparations for next week’s final Major of the year with a closing 67 to finish at 279, one under par for the tournament.