Singh becomes first $10 million golfer

Doug Ferguson and Doug Ferguson

Vijay Singh once earned $10 a lesson as a club pro in Borneo. With his ninth victory of the year yesterday in the Chrysler Championship, the Fijian became golf’s first $10 million man.

In a year that gets better with each week, Singh birdied the first two holes at Innisbrook and never let anyone get within two shots the rest of the way. He closed with a 6-under 65 to win by five shots, matching Tiger Woods for the most victories in a season on the PGA Tour since 1950.

“The wins keeps coming, and I’m enjoying every bit of it,” Singh said.

He finished in style, hitting out of a fairway bunker to 15 feet and making that for birdie. Singh finished at 18-under 266 to set the tournament record by one shot, previously held by K.J. Choi in 2002.

Jesper Parnevik qualified for the Masters with a birdie on the final hole to shoot 68 and finish No. 40 on the money list. Tommy Armour III three-putted the final hole for a 69 to share second place at 271.

Singh now goes to the Tour Championship with a shot at a 10-10 season — 10 victories, $10 million.

He earned $900,000 for this victory, the easiest win he has had all year. It was Singh’s largest victory since he won by six shots in the 2002 Houston Open.

Woods won nine times in 2000. No one else has won that many times since Sam Snead had 11 victories in 1950.

“It’s hard to swallow it right now,” Singh said. “It’s incredible.”

Not bad for a guy who was stuck working at Keningau Club in Borneo as a resident pro, making minimum wage plus $10 a lesson, spending his free time pounding balls in the sun with hopes of making it as a tour professional.

It took Singh 173 tournaments over eight years to earn $10 million for his career. He has surpassed that with one incredible season, his victory at Innisbrook pushing his total to $10,725,166. That’s more than $5 million more than Phil Mickelson, who is second on the money list.

Singh put a quick and decisive end to the Chrysler Championship, getting up-and-down for birdie on the first hole and making an 8-footer for birdie on the next hole.

Then, he left everyone else to battle for the loose change, and it was serious money.

This was the final full-field tournament of the year, the last chance for players to get into the top 30 on the money list to qualify for the Tour Championship; the top 40 to get into the Masters; the top 125 to secure their PGA Tour cards for next year; and the top 150 to have conditional status and bypass the second of three stages in Q-school.

And there were some guys who were just as thrilled as Singh.

Tag Ridings, who was 190th on the money list just one month ago, made seven birdies over his final 10 holes to close with a 64. That put him in a tie for 11th, earning enough money to finish No. 125 on the money list.

Kenny Perry shot 67 and moved up two spots to No. 29, making him eligible for the Tour Championship next week in Atlanta. Carlos Franco held onto the 30th spot, despite closing with an 82.

The real drama involved the Masters.

Joey Sindelar missed the cut but was poised to finish No. 40 on the money list and get to Augusta National for the first time since 1993. But it all changed so suddenly.

First, Parnevik made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Then, Armour missed a 3-foot par putt that knocked him into a two-way tie for second. That was worth an extra $100,000 for Parnevik, and he moved past Sindelar to No. 40 by $13,254.

No one faced an emotional ride quite like Jeff Brehaut.

He was No. 152 on the money list when he arrived at Innisbrook for his 11th consecutive tournament, desperate to at least get into the top 150. That gives him conditional status next year on tour — good for about 15 tournaments – and a free pass to the final stage of Q-school.

Brehaut thought he blew it with a three-putt bogey on No. 17, his 3 1/2-foot par putt lipping out around the cup.

“I just choked,” he said. “I figured, ‘Now I have to make birdie.'”

He had yardage for a wedge — 133 yards — but decided to hit 9-iron to the slightly elevated 18th green and it stopped 4 feet above the hole, a dangerous putt he slid sharply to the right.

“I told myself, ‘Just make your best stroke, just make your best stroke,'” Brehaut said.

It dropped in the center of the cup, and he dropped his arms to his side and pumped his fist.

The only thing that can knock out Parnevik and Ridings is if Padraig Harrington wins the Tour Championship next week to automatically become a PGA Tour member and have his earnings count on the money list.

Next up for Brehaut is Q-school in the California desert, golf’s biggest pressure-cooker.

“More of this,” Brehaut said with a smile. “At least I get some rest. And I’ve got some guarantee of playing.”

The way Singh is playing, it almost looks like he’s guaranteed of winning.

This was his sixth victory in his last eight starts, and he goes to East Lake with a chance to join Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead as the only players with at least 10 victories in one season.