Back treatment has Singh singing
Two weeks into the PGA Tour playoffs, one of the surprise contenders for the FedEx Cup title is Vijay Singh, the 2008 champion.
And the 10 days off before the BMW Championship begins next week figure to benefit the 48-year-old from Fiji more than any of the 70 players remaining in the hunt, especially since he has been slowed by elbow, knee and back injuries the last three years.
In fact, Singh's recent surge has come after he flew to Germany early in August to undergo non-traditional back treatment from a specialist, including several injections.
Fred Couples saw the same doctor and came back to win the Constellation Energy Senior Championship three weeks ago.
"Actually, (Couples) was there a few days before me," said Singh, who missed the cut in the PGA Championship after returning from a month off, but then tied for fourth in the Wyndham Championship and tied for third in the Barclays to open the playoffs. "It's worked miracles.
"I'm playing well because I'm feeling good. I can be more aggressive and not really worry about how I'm going to wake up the next morning, and if I can play or not.
"I've been struggling with this for two years, so it's the first time I feel really comfortable to go out and there and swing the club instead of trying to guide it."
Sure, he shot 75-70 last week to miss the cut by two strokes in the Deutsche Bank Championship and slipped six spots to 14th in the FedEx Cup standings, but he actually played reasonably well except for a two-hole hiccup in round one at TPC Boston.
Playing for the fourth consecutive week, he picked right up where he left off the previous two weeks and was 3-under-par through nine holes after starting on No. 10.
Then he took two shots to escape a greenside bunker in No. 1 and carded a double-bogey 6. On the next hole, he almost drove out of bounds before hitting his next shot into an unplayable lie. After taking a penalty stroke, he hit into the water for another penalty shot en route to a quadruple-bogey 8.
Still, Singh has shown that he's a different golfer than he was for most of the year.
Before this run, he had only three finishes in the top 10 this season, including a tie for third in the Waste Management Phoenix Open and solo second two weeks later in February at the Northern Trust Open.
Over the next five months, his best result was a tie for ninth in the Wells Fargo Championship in May.
"I don't hurt as much anymore," said Singh, who has 58 victories in his career, including 34 on the PGA Tour, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006. "Doesn't mean I don't hurt. But the back's a lot better and that's the big thing.
"It makes a big difference when you are hitting the ball that hard, trying to swing. So I can swing more freely now. There's no restriction in the back anymore. It's probably the way I swung like three or four years ago."
The Big Fijian was right behind — and sometimes ahead of — Tiger Woods during a stretch in which Singh won 23 times on the PGA Tour in six seasons through 2008, including the third and last of his major titles, the 2004 PGA Championship.
In 2007, he smashed Sam Snead's record of 17 titles on the circuit after the age of 40, but he is stuck on 24 after hitting the big 4-0. His three-year victory drought is his longest since the early years of a pro career that began in 1982.
Instead of simply getting older, Singh kept getting better, and much of it had to do with the fact that he never let up.
"I thought I was bionic man, you know," said Singh, who led the circuit in time on the practice range. "But the amount of practice you put in, sooner or later, it's going to take its toll, and now I'm paying for it.
" ... Trying to practice, you know, with an abbreviated swing, I was trying to maneuver that around and tried to get used to that. Now I'm starting to swing the way I used to swing. The back, it's a nasty thing. I don't care who it is, once you get pain. Now it's not hurt, so (knock on) wood."
Singh doesn't expect to reach the lofty heights he achieved after winning nine times on the PGA Tour in 2004 and unseating Woods atop the World Golf Rankings, a spot he held for a total of 32 weeks that year and into 2005.
However, simply being competitive has him believing that he can win again. His last two victories came when he virtually wrapped up the FedEx Cup title by winning the Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship to open the playoffs three years ago.
Even his putting, always the X-factor in his game, is coming around as he approaches that earlier form. He averaged 26.5 putts per round last week.
"I'm putting really well now," said Singh, who suddenly is bidding to make the International team for a ninth consecutive Presidents Cup, or all of them that have been played, in the matches scheduled for November at Royal Melbourne.
"My mind-set (on the greens) is kind of a little bit different now because I'm hitting a lot more shots close to the flags and attacking the flags more. There's more confidence. I just hope I keep playing the way I am. I'm working hard, feeling strong."
He's not feeling old anymore. Instead, we're seeing the Vijay of old.