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Cisco World Matchplay Championship
Wentworth Club
Surrey, England
15th - 18th October 1998

Par 72 Prize Money 640,000


Singh back on form and ready to defend his title

Wentworth, Surrey, 14th October 1998 - The best year of Vijay Singh's golfing life began when he won the World Matchplay title for the first time in five attempts at Wentworth 12 months ago.

Singh suffered some dark days later as his entire game declined because of shaky putting, but he rescued it in time to enjoy a glorious summer which included his first major success at the U.S. PGA championship at Sahalee, Seattle, in August.

To emphasise his form, he added the Sprint International title in Colorado the following week.

Now he is back where it all began, ready to defend the Matchplay crown he seized by deposing three times champion Ernie Els in last year's final.

Things have certainly happened -- unexpectedly," the Florida-based Fijian said on Tuesday. "This is my best year ever."

He said after beating Els that a major crown was the next item on his wish list. "You always look forward to winning a major and the PGA win came at the right time.

"I was putting well and playing well and was very confident in my mind."

Singh conceded his game fell away after he won at Wentworth a year ago.

"I cooled off a bit and had a so-so start to the year. I was putting very poorly and that ate into my game. Anytime I missed a green, I struggled to get up and down because I knew if I chipped six or eight feet away it would be a tough putt."

The improvement began at the Western Open late in June, where he finished second.

"It was the first week I played after changing my putting grip," he explained, adding that he made the alteration after a suggestion from his wife Ardena.

"I got a lot of confidence back then."

Singh was in a virtual matchplay situation in the final round of the PGA when he and playing partner Steve Stricker were alone in contention for the title.

"It was good to be playing with Steve. We could watch each other and see who was doing what," said the Fijian.

He would face Stricker here on Friday if the eighth-seeded American survives an opening battle on Thursday against Patrik Sjoland of Sweden.

But win or lose, Singh will not be too dejected. "I'm happy with what I have done even if I don't play well to the end of the year. It has been a good year for me.

"It has been very satisfying, after all the hard work and time spent."

The 12-man field is one of the strongest in the event's 35-year history. World number one Tiger Woods, number three Mark O'Meara and number four Els are the other seeds with byes into the quarter-finals.

Woods and O'Meara have to forget their unexpected defeat by Spanish opponents in the Alfred Dunhill Cup semifinals at St Andrews on Sunday, when they both lost.

"The scars aren't too bad," said O'Meara, who played four holes with Woods before they were rained off on Tuesday.

"I could have played better on Sunday when I lost to Jose Maria (Olazabal). But I played real well last week although needless to say it is not as much fun when you lose."

The Masters and British Open champion and Woods both await the winners of first round clashes involving four members of Europe's victorious 1997 Ryder Cup team.

For O'Meara, it will be Scot Colin Montgomerie or Thomas Bjorn of Denmark. Woods awaits either Darren Clarke or 1987 and 1990 champion Ian Woosnam, a late stand-in for injured German Bernhard Langer, himself a replacement for American Stewart Cink.

O'Meara, Woods's close friend and mentor, said his young rival was in a good frame of mind.

"He likes it here very much. This course has yielded to a pretty long hitter the last four times with Ernie and Vijay.

"I think Tiger is geared up and looking forward to playing."

Els wants to regain the trophy badly and took the first step by helping South Africa retain the Alfred Dunhill Cup.

"I'd be lying if I said missing a fourth title didn't hurt," he said of his defeat by Singh.

"It did hurt. When you have the chance to win four in a row you've got to be disappointed when you don't make it because the chance might not come again.

"At least I've won three. Not many have," Els added.

His first opponent will be sixth-seeded Briton Lee Westwood or Stuart Appleby of Australia.

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First Round Draw

Last Year's World Matchplay