Vijay Singh won 34 golf tournaments on the PGA Tour, including three major championships. Many figured that when the Hall of Famer began playing events on the PGA Tour Champions in 2013, he’d add a pile of hardware to his trophy case at home in Florida. He thought so too.
It hadn’t worked out that way, until Sunday.
Singh, 55, won for the first time in 26 individual tournaments on the 50-and-over circuit after shooting a five-under-par 66 Sunday in the final round of the Toshiba Classic at Newport Beach Country Club.
He finished at 11 under par, a stroke ahead of Tommy Tolles, Scott McCarron and Tom Pernice Jr., all of whom missed late opportunities to at least force a playoff.
Singh’s last individual victory (he won a team event with Carlos Franco last year) came in the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2008, a span of 235 starts on both tours. Still, he expected to win quickly when he began playing Champions events and grew more and more frustrated when he didn’t.
“I just put a lot of pressure on myself when I first came out here,” Singh said. “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.”
He acknowledged that he needed an attitude adjustment on the course.
“My patience has been really bad,” he said. “I haven’t been a patient golfer. If things don’t go right for me within the first round or so, I just don’t want to be there. So that’s just the kind of mind-set I had for a while.
“I can be hitting the best, playing the best golf, but if your mind’s not right, you’re not going to win golf tournaments and that’s pretty much what it’s been.”
For much of the afternoon, Singh, Pernice, Tolles and McCarron jockeyed for position atop the leaderboard. Singh finally moved into a tie for the top spot at nine under when he birdied the par-four 12th. Soon afterward, Tolles, a 51-year-old journeyman who has not won a professional tournament since a minor league event in 1996 and playing two groups ahead of Singh, moved into the lead alone with a long, curling birdie putt on the par-four 14th.
First, Tolles three-putted for bogey to leave Singh alone in first; then Singh bogeyed when he went bunker-to-bunker; then McCarron three-putted from about 25 feet. Pernice had a birdie putt of about eight feet that lipped out.
Tolles failed to convert a six-footer for birdie on the 510-yard par-five finishing hole to close with a five-under 66. When Singh birdied the hole get to 11 under, McCarron and Pernice, standing on the 18th fairway in the final group, both knew they needed to make eagle to force a playoff. Each missed the green on his second shot and made birdie. McCarron shot 68 and Pernice 69.
Tolles earned $130,000 for his second-place tie, the largest check he has earned in 17 years. It was of little solace.
“You never know how many bites at the apple you’re going to get out here,” he said. “And when you get a big chomp at it, you’ve got to make the most of it. I’m really disappointed.”
Last week in Tucson, Tolles led the Cologuard Classic heading into the final round. He shot 75 to finish tied for ninth.
“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,” he said.
“Just two little six-footers on 17 and 18 and my whole world changes.”
McCarron, who won four times last year on the Champions Tour, said he also felt he had let one get away.
“This will be one that I feel like I lost because I missed so many putts and had so many wedges in my hands that I didn’t take advantage of,” he said. “I’m disappointed I didn’t win this thing, absolutely.”
Singh has split his time between the regular tour and Champions the last several years but now plans to play more on the senior circuit. It’s been a learning experience for him.
“Everybody out here can play; they’re good players,” he said. “So whoever’s coming out here thinking they can just come and win, it’s a little harder than that. That’s what I found anyway.”