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Vijay proves his doubters and critics wrong

His Masters champions dinner had ended late Sunday night, with Vijay Singh, the Augusta National Golf Club's newest green jacket wearer, sharing stories with club chairman Hootie Johnson and chairman emeritus Jack Stephens.

The next day of Singh's now-changed life had begun in earnest.

Singh spent the next hour involved with sit-down interviews inside the clubhouse. ESPN's Jimmy Roberts. CNN's Jim Huber. The Golf Channel's Scott Van Pelt. Fox Sports News and Sports Illustrated, too. CBS This Morning would come early Monday.

The Vijay Singh story would be told and re-told, of how a man from the South Pacific archipelago of Fiji finally believed himself capable of winning golf's granddaddy event and his first green jacket.

It was now 11 p.m. Sunday, and Augusta National was empty, save for a few Pinkerton security guards and the Singh clan. Wife Ardena Seth and International Management Group agent Clarke Jones had cell phones pressed to their ears, each trying to organise the next couple of chaotic days.

Singh, who had risen at 5:45 a.m. Sunday to exercise and complete his suspended third round, had fatigue in his eyes. His son Qass Seth had almost fallen asleep during his father's victory press conference, and now, he was ready to return to their Sheraton hotel room.

The long day would soon be over, and the Singhs would return to their home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on Monday. Qass, 9, will return to the third grade today, no doubt with a note from dad saying ``Please excuse my son for missing class Monday as we were travelling and celebrating my Masters championship.''

He will travel to Hilton Head, S.C., this morning to prepare for the PGA Tour's next event, the MCI Classic at Harbour Town. No rest for the weary Singh, among golf's weekly grinders.

On Sunday night, Singh had his green jacket on when the family and his coach posed for pictures. It was time to go, so Singh grabbed his enormous Cleveland Golf bag from his locker and slung the clubs over his right shoulder without removing the jacket. He grabbed three bags of Footjoy shoes and started walking down the pavement to get his courtesy Cadillac, parked around the corner from the driving range.

Singh and Jones walked side by side as they reached Augusta National's caddie stand. A crescent moon provided the night's light.

The next voice heard was Singh's.

``Kiss my ass, everybody,'' he said, piercing through the night, to no one in particular.

The green jacket was his. That fact could not be altered. And now Singh had a message to send to a press corps that had never been in his corner, to the Asian Tour golfer who accused him of cheating in 1985, an accusation that Singh denies but still expelled him from competition, and to his countless number of doubters and ill-wishers.

He sent it earlier with a putting stroke that holed every putt of significance Sunday to thwart charging efforts of Ernie Els, David Duval and Tiger Woods. And now, in the dim of night, he threw one more salvo.

Know this about Singh: He has never been among golf's most huggable figures. His close friends on tour describe him as hard-working, self-reliant and quite cocky. He remembers names and holds grudges. His favourite pastime, other than making driving range volunteers cancel dinner plans, is proving people wrong.

Inside the locker room Sunday night, he asked if anyone knew Paul Davis, the WRDW-Channel 12 sports director. Davis had predicted, on the air, a Singh collapse Sunday.

``Tell Paul Davis this from me: `Ha ha ha,''' Singh said. ``Nothing else.''

That Singh would remember what a local sportscaster would say almost 24 hours earlier before starting the most important round of golf of his 37-year-old life shows a bit of his on-the-edge relationship with the media.

Yet after winning Sunday, Singh was positively giddy, calling it ``the greatest feeling'' he's ever felt.

As Augusta National members escorted him to the Butler Cabin for the post-tournament CBS ceremony, Singh asked a member, ``Do I get to play here now?''

``It's good to know what my rights and privileges are now, that's why I asked,'' Singh said. ``It won't be so much for me, but whether I can get other friends here. I'd like to know what I can do.''

What Singh will do in the short-term is keep playing golf. He played in 29 events in 1999, and his start in Hilton Head will be his 11th in 15 weeks.

And as he advanced to No. 5 in the world rankings, Singh, the winner of two of the past six majors, talked of adding to his '98 PGA Championship this summer. Could there be talk of a Grand Slam?

The U.S. Open will be held at Pebble Beach in June, where Singh finished tied for second to Woods in February. At the U.S. Open in Pinehurst, he tied for third.

St. Andrews, the site of the British Open in July, is where Singh tied for sixth when it was held there last, in 1995.

And when the PGA Championship returns to Valhalla in Louisville, Ky., Singh may draw on his tie for fifth there in 1996.

``All this will do is boost my confidence more,'' Singh said. ``My record at the venues is pretty good, so we'll see. I'm the only one that can win the grand slam.''

Masters Coverage begins here

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