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Vijay Singh: Work, Win, Work and Win Again.

by Greg Johnson

He wants to work late, win, work late again and win again, only without making much of a public display.

Yes, the story on Vijay Singh is that he is always the last anonymous one to leave, the golfer in the shadows on the far corner of the practice tee beating balls and the sun to the finish of the day.

But that's not the only story, though he doesn't go out of his way to deflect it and offer another in its place. Go ahead, accept that one and let him be on his way. It doesn't matter to him if you don't know much about him. Singh, the defending Buick Open champion, is enamored with anonymity.

"I prefer it," he says. "It doesn't bother me at all if nobody notices me."

It's the irony in being an anonymous winner that best defines the 35-year-old native of Fiji. Of course, anonymity will be most difficult in his third appearance at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club for the Buick Open.

"When you win someplace you expect that when you come back, but I will find a way to concentrate on the golf," he says. "I want to take advantage of the confidence winning there will give me. I look forward to it."

Singh has some practice at being a defending champion. He has won five times on the PGA Tour where he was Rookie of the Year in 1993, and won 18 other titles around the won since 1984.

His past is also interesting, if not checkered.

With his penchant for not offering much to the media, his past has surfaced beyond his devotion to the swing of Tom Weiskopf and hitting balls on the range with one hand and holding a golf instruction book with the other.

Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated stories in the early 1990s claimed he was suspended for two years for cheating on a scorecard from the Asian Tour in 1995. He counters it was a misunderstanding between a marker, who was the son of an Indonesian VIP, and him.

It was also reported that he was suspended by the Australian tour in the early 1980s for allegedly not paying "debts." And it was reported that he has an estranged relationship with his homeland where a military coup in 1987 restored power to the native Fijians and took it from those of Indian ancestry. Singh is of Indian ancestry.

The one-time club pro in Borneo won't talk about those things, and, in fact, usually uses the mention of them as exit lines from interviews.

They are the past. He will go back about as far as the 1997 Buick Open, but that's it. He likes to talk about his Buick Open history, where fittingly in his second appearance he came from the pack to win.

"I still remember being surprised I won," he says. "I was so far behind. I don't think anybody ever thought Ernie (Els) would lose a big lead. I just played, shot a great last round with a lot of birdies, and there I was."

Singh opened the '97 Buick with rounds of 67 and 73, and was nine shots off the lead. A 67 in the third round moved him within four shots of the lead, but the leader was Els. Sane golfers do not spot the gifted Els four shots over 72 holes, let alone 18.

"The thing about that golf course is that you have to make birdies, and that's not that easy when you are pressing to make birdies," Singh says. "I was just trying to shoot a good round the last two days. I really didn't think I was in it. It might have been different if I had the lead."

A closing 66 did the trick as Els shot 74 that Sunday. The South Africa native tied Tom Byrum, Russ Cochran, Brad Fabel, Joe Ozaki and Curtis Strange for second at 277.

Singh appeared suddenly, anonymous no longer in Grand Blanc, atop the heap at 15-under-par 273.

"I think about it, and I remember I like the golf course," he said. "The greens are great, and you have to keep the ball in play there. I think the driver and the putter are the two most important clubs there. You have to get in the fairway so you can get it on the greens, and then if you start making putts you can score."

Early in the season at The Masters Singh was struggling. He missed the cut for the first time in 53 PGA Tour events, the fifth-longest run in tour history.

He wasn't happy about it. When approached by reporters following his exit round at Augusta National, he offered just a few words.

"Go away, go away, go away," he said.

Since that exit line his game has rebounded. He started making cuts again right away, and the putting that helped him win the Buick last year has made an appearance at times as well.

"I'm the best putter in the world right now," he told reporters at The Memorial in May where he was also the defending champion.

This from a guy who experimented with the refugee long putter from the Senior Tour for a while before returning to a shorter putter two years ago. He's not using the same putter at this point that he used to win the Buick, but it's one of similar style.

He pounds balls, and pounds balls some more in hopes of hitting the green. Then it comes to the putting.

"It boils down to who gets the right breaks on the greens, who makes the most putts," he says of the tour, including its stop in Michigan. "I mean, you can hit 18 greens and not make a putt, and some guy is going to hit 12 greens and make six putts and be ahead of the others."

So the practice continues. Remember, he can be found in the shadows at the end of the day, on the far end of the range or a quiet corner of the putting green.

"I learn something every tournament," he says. "There is still a lot to learn."

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