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Singh looking to tighten hold on No.1 spot

Vijay Singh didn't see the Mystic Rock course where the 84 Lumber Classic is played until a few weeks ago. Defending champion J.L. Lewis said the world's top-ranked golfer would have gained no great advantage if he had seen it earlier.

The course is so different from the one where Lewis shot a closing-round 62 to win last year's tournament, he said it is almost an entirely new layout.

Good thing, considering Lewis finished 22-under for the tournament. With a greatly upgraded field that includes 19 of the top 30 money winners, it's difficult to imagine what Singh or David Toms might have shot on the much easier course of a year ago.

All 18 greens were replaced since last year, and the course was lengthened by 400 yards to 7,500, making the Pete Dye design one of the longer courses on the PGA Tour.

"The greens are a lot harder, and the ball's not going to go in there and back up," Lewis said. "It's going to go 20, 40 feet after it hits, and that changes the game a lot right there. You're not shooting at the pins, you're shooting short of the pins. And they now have five, six or seven possible pin placements on every hole, and that makes it a more challenging place to play."

So does having Singh around for the tournament, which starts Thursday.

Even by the absent Tiger Woods' standards, the 41-year-old Singh is having a remarkable year, winning his last two tournaments and seven overall. Singh joins Woods (twice), Jack Nicklaus (twice), Tom Watson and Johnny Miller as the only players to have won that often in a season since 1970.

The $810,000 he won two weeks ago for beating Mike Weir in a playoff at the Canadian Open upped his season earnings to slightly less than $8.7 million, or $488,755 less than Woods' record of $9.1 million set in 2000. Woods won nine times that year -- a feat Singh could match by winning twice during his final five tournaments.

"I'm enjoying the ride right now, and I'm feeling really confident in my game," he said. "I'm really looking forward to going out there and performing well again."

Singh won the Deutsche Bank Classic in Boston just before winning the Canadian Open to end Woods' 264-week run at world No. 1. Woods initially committed to playing in the 84 Lumber Classic, then backed out citing fatigue from last week's Ryder Cup, so he cannot overtake Singh this week.

"I've still got five events in the U.S. -- two of them no-cut events," Singh said recently. "I'm not going to back off. I'm going to try to come out and win a few more events by the end of the year."

Tournament sponsor 84 Lumber announced a sponsorship deal Wednesday with Singh, no doubt trying to capitalize on his big season. The company, founded by billionaire Joe Hardy, also sponsors John Daly, but Daly promotes the lumber company while Singh mostly will promote the tournament.

No doubt he thinks the best way to do that would be to win it. Singh will go off with one the early groups Thursday morning, in a threesome that includes Weir.

Singh can secure the PGA Tour money record with a second-place finish. He is already guaranteed about $116,000 from the no-cut American Express Championship and the Tour Championship.

Asked how long he can stay No. 1, Singh said, "If I keep winning, I'm going to stay up there, and that's my goal right now. If I keep doing that, everything will take care of itself."

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