Vijay Singh says he can’t be kidding himself out on the course. At age 55, the World Golf Hall of Famer knows he needs to be playing PGA Tour Champions events like the Toshiba Classic more often.
Singh used to win a lot on the PGA Tour, 34 times. And while he has won three majors, the Masters once and the PGA Championship twice, Singh entered the Toshiba Classic at Newport Beach Country Club having not won an individual title in almost 10 years.
The Fijian ended the drought on Sunday.
Singh claimed his first individual title by shooting five-under-par 66, finishing with a three-day Toshiba Classic total of 11-under 202. The win marked Singh’s first on the 50-and-over tour.
“I guess it’s a relief,” said Singh, whose last individual victory came at the Deutsche Bank Championship at the TPC Boston on Sept. 1, 2008. “I always knew I was going to win out here. It was just a matter of time. … I haven't been consistent enough. I haven't played consistent enough out here. I played last year a few more than I did the previous years. I was going to play a lot more this year anyway, so this is a good start and hopefully I'm going to win a few more.”
Singh edged three golfers — Tommy Tolles, Scott McCarron and Tom Pernice Jr. — by one stroke to earn $270,000. Tolles shot a 65 on Sunday, McCarron a 68 and Pernice a 69, each finishing the three-day tournament at 10 under. David Toms placed fifth at eight under.
Sunday began with Singh tied for fourth and two strokes back of the leader, Pernice, who was at eight under. Things looked bright for Pernice. After a rainy Saturday, the skies cleared up in time for the final round.
Whenever Pernice enters the final round with at least a share of the lead in his Champions career, he tends to shine. He prevailed four out of the previous five times atop the leaderboard.
Pernice’s sixth time out in front started shaky. He bogeyed the first hole, and then the ninth and Pernice found himself behind Tolles. Everyone else trailed Tolles as well, as Tolles climbed to first place after he entered Sunday four strokes back of Pernice.
Tolles birdied five of the first nine holes to take a one-stroke lead. He stayed in first, trying to earn his first tournament victory since 1994, but it was Singh breaking through.
Singh closed out the tournament with a birdie on the par-five 18th. Tolles, already in the clubhouse after shooting six under in the final round, could only watch Singh sink his three-foot putt, giving him his seventh birdie on Sunday and a one-stroke lead.
Tolles, who fired a five-under-par 30 on the front nine, missed a chance to collect a birdie on the 16th hole. It would have been his third straight birdie putt on the back nine and it would have put him at 12 under. Tolles said he thought getting there would take everybody out of the equation.
“I had a birdie putt there at 16 that I just hit a little too hard, and [at] 17, I almost topped my first one,” said Tolles, whose bogey-free round ended after he three-putted the par-three 17th. “I hit it so poorly.
“Obviously I never won on the PGA Tour, so this is kind of like, you've heard that adage about same movie, same script, same ending? I have a little bit of that feeling, which is not a good feeling to have.”
Tolles didn’t help his cause by missing a six-foot putt for birdie on the final hole.
Singh wasn’t helping himself either. He had a couple of bad shots on the 196-yard 17th. He hit it into the bunker twice, on his tee shot and second shot, and wound up with long a bogey, his second on the day.
Singh, tied for the lead at 10 under with Tolles, bounced back on the last hole.
With Pernice and McCarron, both a stroke back and playing in the group behind, Singh knew he was in a good spot. Singh said he looked at the scoreboard right behind him, as Pernice missed a birdie putt on the 17th hole and McCarron bogeyed it.
Pernice and McCarron needed an eagle on the 18th hole to force a three-player playoff. They fell short, coming up with birdies on the final hole, and Singh, who recorded 68s on the first two days, triumphed for the first time in 27 individual tournaments on the senior circuit.
Singh did win the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, a two-man Champions event in Missouri, with Carlos Franco last year.
“I just put a lot of pressure on myself when I first came out here,” Singh said of when he started playing Champions events in 2013. “Every time I teed up, I thought I had to win. The more I did that, the more I didn't win, the harder it got.”