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Win confirms Singh as world class player

From the Fiji Islands to Malaysia to The Masters, it's been a long road for Vijay Singh.

But the most-famous Fijian golfer of all time validated himself as one of the best in the world Sunday by winning the 64th annual Masters.

It was the second major championship for the stoic 37-year-old, who trailed seven players in the world rankings but beat them all over 72 holes at the famed Augusta National Golf Club.

Those that tried but couldn't catch him included the two top-ranked players in the world -- Tiger Woods and David Duval.

"I'm happy for Vijay," said Woods, the superstar of the golf world. "He works hard on his game and is in physical shape. He's such a great guy. It's nice to see him playing well."

"I don't think anybody should be surprised that Vijay Singh won this golf tournament," added Duval, who finished fourth and remained without a major. "He's a wonderful player and one of the best players on this planet."

Literally.

Singh, whose first name in his native language means victory, has won just about everywhere, claiming titles in Nigeria, Sweden, Zimbabwe, Spain, Germany, the Ivory Coast, France, Morocco and, of course, the United States, where his latest win should finally earn him his due.

Lost in the shadows of other golf stars, Singh has as many major championships as Woods, Duval, Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie.

That from a man who couldn't even watch The Masters as a child in his homeland, let alone dream of winning one.

"Well, I always watched The Masters on video because we didn't have live TV," he said. "Probably '78 or '79, somewhere in there, I started watching it."

It's been a long road for Singh, who used his father's hand-me-down clubs and lessons to learn the game on an island where only five percent of the people play golf.

"Without him starting me, I would have never been here or learned how to play golf," Singh said of his father, Mohan. "A lot of credit goes to him for giving me a golf stick.

"I was fortunate. In Fiji golf is like cricket over here. That's how golf is in Fiji."

He learned to play well enough in the early 1980s to become a club pro in Malaysia, where in 100-degree heat he made a living for him and his wife giving lessons and improved his future by practising.

"We had a little hotel room and one bedroom," said Singh, whose wife is Malaysian. "It was just like a hotel room. That's where we lived for two years. I'd give about five or six lessons a day and just practice in the meantime.

"It was really hard. I mean, it was 100 degrees every day, no matter if it's raining or sun shining. It's always hot. That's just what I wanted to do, get back on tour and spend two years trying to earn a living doing that."

Singh won the 1984 Malaysian PGA Championship and in 1988 claimed the Nigerian Open and Swedish PGA Championship, a year before playing full time on the PGA European Tour, where in his first season he won three titles.

"When I had a chance, I went to Europe, and that's when all the practice paid off because I was really hitting balls then and trying to improve what I was doing," he said. "I think that was a time when I really believed I could do it."

Singh played 32 European tournaments without a victory in 1990 but won in Morocco in 1991 and a year later made it to the PGA tour. He played in only four events but finished in a tie for seventh at the Memorial Tournament.

The following season, Singh played 14 PGA Tour events and broke through with a victory at the Buick Classic. He ranked 19th on the money list that season with $657,831 and knew he belonged.

"When I did come over here and won in my first full season of play, you know, once you win over here, you believe you can win at any conditions and any golf course," he said.

Singh increased his PGA Tour schedule in 1994, playing two-thirds of his events on the circuit, and despite suffering from a bad back in 1995, won the Phoenix Open and Buick Open.

He had arrived, but something was missing. He ranked ninth on the money list in 1995 with $1,018,713 but had developed a reputation for being an ordinary putter.

But the man with a thousand putters improved that facet of his game. After going all of 1996 without a title, he won twice in 1997 and again in 1998, when he claimed the PGA Championship at Sahalee.

"I'm a better putter than I was," he said. "I've taken away the thought of working with my strokes as much as my line, so I'm more in line with my stroke."

Singh has always been thought of as one of the Tour's best ball strikers, but many wondered if he could win The Masters with a suspect putting game.

"If you'd asked me the question two years ago, I'd have said I can't win this because of the way I was putting," he admitted. "But my attitude change was a big boost to that."

Singh won a career-high $2,283,233 million last year, silenced more critics this past weekend on the devastating greens of Augusta and moved farther away from his days in Malaysia.

"We cherished the time we were there," he said. "Although it was a struggle, it was a peaceful struggle. Sometimes with all the hassles here, we think we'd rather be there for all the non-hassles. But I'd never swap for that now. This is something that I think you can't beat."

Masters Coverage begins here

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