On the same day that Tiger Woods was married in Barbados, the two best golfers in the world were walking the streets of St. Andrews, Scotland. They live with fame without security guards or back-door entrances. Photographers in speedboats don't stalk them. Oprah would not be on their guest lists. And they are both genuinely happy to see each other standing Nos. 1 and 2 in the world.
Vijay Singh has won eight times this year, has won his third major, and has passed Tiger for the No. 1 ranking. Ernie Els came back last weekend from a major championship season of heartache with a true measure of his competitive spirit. With Thomas Björn and half of Europe's Ryder Cup team on his back, Ernie came up big at the WGC-American Express Championship, winning for the fourth time this year and in the process passed Tiger and extended the word to Vijay at Mount Juliet that the game was indeed, on.
On Wednesday, the two giants shook hands and played catch-up during a few practice holes on the Old Course. Although Singh is six years older, their careers overlapped in Europe, they broke through in America at the same time, they played on the Presidents Cup together four times, and they've both served time as Tiger's whipping boys, back when Tiger was nearly unbeatable.
Els has visions of No. 1 that didn't seem conceivable when Woods had his double-digit lead. He knows he can beat Singh. Singh has the focus of a man who knows Ernie is coming but intends to increase his lead. Their rivalry figures to be competitively intense but not personally heated. It's not going to be nasty, but it's going to be a dogfight.
"You know, we shot around and we talked a little bit and obviously, he congratulated me on my win and I congratulated him on all of his wins and that was that," Els said. "You know, I think we both are professional enough to know what's going on in the world of golf, and you know, we are out here to play as good as we can. Vijay is No. 1 right now. ... I've had a good season and we'll see how it goes. I want to play as good as I can. I played well last week and I've had other things on my mind. And the No. 1 spot, if it comes around, it does. I just want to play good golf."
While Tiger and Elin duck the paparazzi, Singh and Els will share the stage at the Dunhill Links Championship and the HSBC World Match Play. Now they know Woods is vulnerable, stating it almost matter-of-factly.
"Sooner or later if he doesn't win, Ernie and myself, if we keep winning, he is going to be replaced," Singh said. "And he has not won a golf tournament in, what, five, six months, whatever time it's been. I mean, you've got to win golf tournaments to stay up there. I mean, you can stay up there if you don't win and finish with top-10s, but to get 1 or 2 you have to win. ... Tiger has not won."
Singh has won 12 times in the past two years, Els 11 and Tiger six. Vijay is coming off a week of rest, wants to keep the streaks going and is clearly enjoying the role. He's currently three-for-three and five-for-six going back to the Buick Open in early August. He's got Player of the Year locked up in the United States and has earned $9.5 million with three events remaining, starting with a title defense at Walt Disney World on Oct. 21.
Singh has five straight events on his schedule while Woods will be back at Disney World. The following week at the Chrysler Championship in Tampa it'll be Singh and Els. They'll all be at East Lake in Atlanta, where Singh has finished 2-3-1 in the three Tour Championships played at the refurbished home of Bobby Jones.
"You kind of touch on how far you can go and how high you can go and you start looking at how good you really are, and it kind of brings a side of you out that you never thought you had," Singh said. "I thought I could win a lot of golf tournaments, but so many in a row, so many in one year that now, you know, you think that you can't stop winning golf tournaments. And that's my feeling now; that every time I tee it up, I can win golf tournaments. It's confidence, and I feel really, really right now that I can win anything that I play in."
For Tiger the honeymoon may be beginning, but in golf, it is over.
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.