Give this much to Vijay Singh: He has emerged over the last two years as one of the most relentlessly consistent players the game of golf has ever seen. And the fact that he has gone from a marginal Hall-of-Famer to a cinch to be enshrined at St. Augustine in the 20 months since he passed his 40th birthday makes it all the more remarkable.
Singh's ninth victory of the year at the Chrysler Championship means that only three of the immortals -- Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead -- have won more PGA Tour events in a season. And it means that Singh has matched the remarkable number Tiger Woods achieved in 2000. Singh's year, however, pales when compared to Woods' year in 2000, and that will be true even if Singh manages to get his 10th victory this week at the Tour Championship.
The comparison is pretty straight forward. When Woods won nine times, three of his were major championships -- two in overwhelming fashion. Singh's lone major this year was the PGA Championship. It is also true that the non-majors Woods won in 2000 were more impressive than the non-majors Singh won this year. That is not meant to devalue the achievement of winning a PGA Tour event. Capturing any title on that tour is a significant feat. But let's compare.
Besides his three majors in 2000, Woods won the Mercedes Championships (a winners-only event), Bay Hill (always one of the deepest fields on tour), The Memorial, and the NEC Invitational, a World Golf Championship event. Woods in 2000 and Singh this year both won the PGA Championship, Pebble Beach and the Canadian Open. But Singh's other wins in 2004 included triumphs at Houston, New Orleans, the 84 Lumber Classic and the Chrysler Championship, which are not among the powerhouse fields. Only three times this year -- the PGA Championship, Deutsche Bank and the Buick Open -- did Singh win while Woods was in the field.
This is all by way of placing Singh's accomplishment in perspective, not to demean it. It is safe to say that only Ben Hogan in 1953 had a year to surpass Singh's that occurred after the age of 40. So where does Singh's year rank among the great seasons on the PGA Tour? Despite the fact that right now only Nelson, Hogan and Snead have won more times in a season and even if Singh should win the Tour Championship and get to 10 victories, I don't place it among the top-10 best years. Here is my ranking of the 10 best years in men's golf:
10. Jack Nicklaus, 1973
A year in which Nicklaus could have won the Grand Slam if a few breaks had gone his way. He won seven times, including the PGA Championship by four strokes. Jack was T-3 in the Masters, missing a playoff by two strokes, T-4 in the U.S. Open -- three strokes back -- and T-4 in the British Open by four strokes.
9. Sam Snead, 1950
Even though Snead's best finish in a major was third place in the Masters, it is difficult to ignore 11 victories.
8. Arnold Palmer, 1962
For the second time in three years Palmer won eight times including two majors. Arnold won the Masters, finished second to Nicklaus in the U.S. Open in a playoff and won the British Open. He was T-17 in the PGA Championship.
7. Ben Hogan, 1946
Bantam Ben's 13 victories are the second-most in the history of the PGA Tour and included a triumph in the PGA Championship, starting a streak in which Hogan won nine of the next 16 majors in which he played. Hogan also finished second by one stroke to Herman Kaiser in the Masters and T-4 in the U.S. Open.
6. Jack Nicklaus, 1972
The Golden Bear won seven times and matched Palmer by capturing the Masters and the U.S. Open before finishing second to Lee Trevino in the British Open by a single stroke. He then finished T-13 in the PGA Championship.
5. Arnold Palmer, 1960
The King won eight times including capturing the Masters and the U.S. Open before finishing second to Kel Nagle in the British Open by one stroke. Palmer then finished T-7 in the PGA Championship.
4. Bobby Jones, 1930
The only thing that keeps this from being ranked higher is the fact that only two of Jones' four victories as he swept a version of the Grand Slam were against professionals. But winning the U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur in the same year is a remarkable achievement and clearly established Jones as the best golfer in the world that year.
3. Tiger Woods, 2000
The nine PGA Tour victories by Woods were the most since Sam Snead won 11 in 1950 and his performance in the U.S. Open might be the most dominating in the history of the game as he finished 15 strokes ahead of runner-up Ernie Els. Woods also romped in the British Open, winning by eight, and proved he could handle the close ones when he made a gutsy putt on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship to force a playoff with Bob May which Woods won.
2. Ben Hogan, 1953
The post-car crash Hawk was limited to only six events by badly battered legs, and he won five of them, including all three majors in which he played. And Hogan not only won those majors, he dominated them, winning the Masters by five strokes, the U.S. Open by six and the British Open by four. Only a scheduling conflict kept him from the PGA Championship and prevented Hogan from being the only man to make a run at the calendar-year Grand Slam.
1. Byron Nelson, 1945
Even though it was a war year, how can you dismiss 18 victories, including 11 in a row? It is one of the most remarkable achievements in any sport. The only thing that detracted from it was that only one major championship was played because of World War II -- the PGA Championship -- but Nelson won that one.
Honorable mention: Johnny Miller, 1974, eight victories, no majors. Tom Watson, 1980, eight victories, one major. Tiger Woods, 1999, eight victories, one major. Vijay Singh, 2004, nine victories, one major. Arnold Palmer, 1963, seven victories, no majors. Gene Sarazen, 1930, eight victories, no majors. Henry Picard, 1939, eight victories, one major. Cary Middlecoff, 1949, seven victories, one major. Lee Trevino, 1971, six victories, two majors.
The fact that Singh has gone over the $10-million mark in single-season earnings is irrelevant because inflation makes a historical comparison of money meaningless, although I'm guessing that's not what Singh thinks when he balances his checkbook. Perhaps the most impressive number posted by Singh is the fact that after the Tour Championship he will have played in 29 PGA Tour events this year; Woods will have played in 19. In fact, since Woods' first full-year on tour in 1997, Singh has averaged seven more events per year than Woods.
Say this much: The Fijian gives the fans their money's worth.
Ron Sirak is the Executive Editor of Golf World magazine.