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Els collapse helps Singh win Buick Open

August 11, 1997

GRAND BLANC, Mich. (AP) _ A new putter and a calming caddie. What more could Vijay Singh possibly need for his second triumph of the season?

Only a total collapse by Ernie Els.

The current U.S. Open champion backed up to the pack Sunday, clearing the way for Singh to win the Buick Open by four strokes over Els and five others.

While Els could produce just one birdie all day, Singh played almost perfect golf, shooting 6-under-par 66 for a 15-under 273 total.

``My caddie, Dave Renick, said, `Don’t try to force yourself. Just let it come,‴ Singh said. ``That’s what I did. He kept telling me to be patient, and that’s what I was.″

Curtis Strange, Joe Ozaki, Russ Cochran, Brad Fabel and Tom Byrum all tied with Els at 277. Ozaki closed with a 69, Cochran and Byrum 67s, Strange and Fabel 71s at Warwick Hills Country Club.

Els, who was 13-under after the second round, never improved. After shooting even par in the third round, Els started the final round with a three-stroke lead, but closed with a 2-over 74.

``This golf course just wouldn’t give me anything,″ Els said. ``It wouldn’t give me anything for the last two days. I couldn’t make any putts. So, maybe next week the golf course will be good to me.″

That, of course, would be famed Winged Foot at Mamaroneck, N.Y., site of the PGA championship. Els, 27, is one of several Generation X golfers expected to make a strong bid at Winged Foot. The first three major championships this year all were won by golfers under the age of 30.

That meant little to Singh, 34, who started the final round five shots behind Els. Singh, who had only three PGA Tour wins _ none since 1995 _ before winning the Memorial Tournament in May, watches the leaderboards. He felt he had a real chance when he saw that Els wasn’t making a charge.

``I thought Ernie would win this today,″ Singh said. ``But after the front nine, we were all bunched up. So on the back, I just got my tail up.″

Playing bogey-free golf, Singh birdied Nos. 5 and 7 to make the turn in 34. With steady, conservative play, he birdied three of the first five holes on the back side to reach 14-under. Singh, a native of Fiji who has 17 international victories since 1984, was two shots ahead of the struggling Els at that point.

``After my birdie at No. 14, my caddie said, `Let’s just take it home from here,‴ Singh recalled.

On those rare occasions when he did stumble, Singh was able to right himself. After pulling his second shot on the par-5 16th into heavy rough near a tree, Singh managed to pitch into the first cut of greenside rough, about 15 feet from the flag, and save par.

``I had a new putter. I just picked it up from a guy who was out by the putting green Wednesday night,″ Singh said. ``I got a new putter before the Memorial and won that, too. Maybe I should get more new putters.″

Playing in a light sprinkle, Singh made routine par on No. 17, then thrust his fist in the air after rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on the home hole. All Singh had to do then was wait and see if Els could find his game.

He couldn’t.

Els, playing with Strange, two groups behind Singh, didn’t make a birdie until the back nine. His bogeys at Nos. 8 and 11 dropped Els to 11-under. Els got one back with a birdie at 13, but that was to be his only birdie of the day.

He left a 6-foot birdie putt on the lip at 14. His long uphill birdie putt at 15 hit the hole, bounced off the back lip and stopped two feet past the cup.

``After the 14th, I sort of knew it really wasn’t going to be my day,″ Els said.

With Singh already finished, Els hit a 5-iron over the green and bogeyed the par-3 17th. That dropped him to 11-under and hopelessly out of the hunt.

``It’s a tough game we play,″ Els said. ``Up one day, down the next. You have to take the ups and downs, but it wears on you.″

Singh, who became the tour’s seventh multiple winner this season, earned $270,000 of the $1.5 million purse.

Masters champion Tiger Woods finally made the kind of move thousands of fans came to see, but it was too late. Woods, who turned at 6-under, birdied four of the first seven holes on the home side for a 68 and a 278.

``I never got anything going on the front nine,″ said Woods, who hadn’t played since the British Open. ``It was kind of frustrating. On the back nine, it just kind of clicked in. I found something in my golf swing that helped.″

Woods earned $43,500 Sunday, and his total of $1,821,895 for the year breaks the PGA Tour mark of $1,780,159 set last year by Tom Lehman.

DIVOTS: Among other notable finishers: Jim Furyk saw his streak of top-10 finishes end at eight after shooting a 66 for 280. Furyk was trying to catch Tom Kite, who had a string of nine straight top-10 finishes in 1981. British Open champion Justin Leonard, who also was the defending Buick Open champion, finished with a 72 for 286. First-round leader Sonny Skinner, who tied the tournament record with a 62, followed up with rounds of 76-74-75 to finish at 1-under 287.

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