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Making it look easy

No telling what was hotter, Vijay Singh breathing down his neck all day or the scorching sun that made for a steamy fall afternoon at the Westin Innisbrook Resort.

For Retief Goosen, however, it never looked like anything but a comfortable Sunday stroll on the Copperhead course.

No doubt Goosen's 1-under-par 70 was harder than it appeared, his three-stroke victory in the inaugural Chrysler Championship more difficult than the seemingly unflappable South African would ever let on.

But with Singh, the PGA Tour's leading money winner in close pursuit, Goosen had a few precarious moments before capturing his third PGA Tour event and 19th worldwide.

"You are always going to be nervous in this game," said Goosen, 34, who won $864,000 from the $4.8-million purse and jumped to 10th on the PGA Tour money list with more than $2.75-million. "Doesn't matter who you are. Tiger (Woods) is nervous. Everybody is nervous. You really focus on the shot in hand.

"I think that's obviously the toughest part of golf. If you are not in contention it's sometimes easy to go out there and shoot 6 or 7 under and go home. But when you enter one or two shots ahead, suddenly the game is not all that easy and it becomes more of a grind."

Goosen said Saturday that Singh would be the man to beat. He turned out to be right as Singh did his best to make it a game, getting within one stroke on the back nine before Goosen pulled away, finishing at 272, 12-under par. Singh was second at 275, followed by Briny Baird, who shot 72 to finish third at 276. Nobody else threatened.

Singh shot 70, has finished 1-2-1-2 in his past four tour events and posted his 17th top-10 finish of the season. He earned $518,400 but was unable to clinch the PGA Tour money title, giving Woods a glimmer of hope at this week's Tour Championship. Asked if Woods called to thank him, Goosen said, smiling: "I'm sure he will."

Woods, who took the week off, trails Singh by $768,494. That means Woods must win the Tour Championship and its $1.080-million first prize while Singh finishes worse than a three-way tie for third ($314,000) at the $6-million tournament to clinch his fifth straight money title. If Woods does not win, or if Singh finishes tied for third or better, Singh, 40, wins his first money title.

"I don't have to win to win the money title, but I would like to win again next week," said Singh, who won last year's Tour Championship. "I am happy to finish second. I'm a little disappointed I didn't win. I thought I had a good chance. Retief played solid all day, and he deserved to win."

Goosen began the final round with a two-shot advantage over Baird and a three-shot margin over Singh. Baird fell out of contention with double bogey at the seventh hole and bogey at the eighth.

"From there on I was pretty much fighting for a good showing," said Baird, who earned $326,400 and moved to 22nd on the money list, securing a spot in the Tour Championship and U.S. Open. "It pretty much knocked me out of the tournament. I knew it right then. It's amazing. No matter how much you want to focus, some of it leaves you."

Singh was focused on a victory to clinch the money title. A win also would have given him five for the year, tied with Woods for the most and making for an interesting player of the year race.

Goosen, however, let none of it bother him. This is a man, remember, who was struck by lightning as a teenager at Pietersburg Golf Club in his native South Africa. Two years ago he captured the U.S. Open at Southern Hills, where he could have gone down in major-championship infamy.

Needing two putts from 12 feet on the 72nd hole to secure the title, Goosen somehow three-putted, knocking his first 3 feet past the hole, then pushing the winning putt past the cup. He knocked in the testy bogey putt to get into a playoff with Mark Brooks.

Despite the hair-raising finish, Goosen was never flustered. The next day he defeated Brooks in an 18-hole playoff.

Goosen didn't face the same kind of pressure Sunday, but a victory was important nonetheless. It was his first of the year on the PGA Tour and got him a spot in the season-opening Tour Championship. He's won twice this year (he captured the Trophee Lancome in France) and figures to move up from 10th in the world ranking.

Coincidentally, a poor final round Oct. 26 at the Funai Classic caused Goosen to skip a trip to Europe last week for the Volvo Masters in Spain. Although he had committed to the Chrysler Championship, Goosen was set to withdraw and play in the season-ending European PGA Tour event had he improved his position on the PGA Tour.

Instead he elected to stay in the United States, driving from Orlando to the Chrysler Championship. The Volvo Masters went on without him, and Goosen dropped from ninth on the European Order of Merit _ which he won the past two years _ to 12th. But he improved from 26th on the PGA Tour to 10th.

"I feel like I moved up a little bit over the last three years and I learned a lot in the game," said Goosen, who has been as high as fourth in the world ranking. "I feel like I'm definitely up there in the top six players in the world. That is sort of my goal, to see if I can get back into a better position than I have been. I would like to see if I can get one better."

No doubt, he'll look cool in the process.

PGA money leaders

1. Vijay Singh $7,345,907

2. Tiger Woods 6,577,413

3. Davis Love 5,853,896

4. Jim Furyk 4,990,865

5. Mike Weir 4,806,410

TOUGH ENOUGH

The Chrysler Championship was the 47th event on the PGA Tour this year, and including the major championships only 10 had a winning score in relation to par that was as high as Retief Goosen's 12 under on the Copperhead course at the Westin Innisbrook Resort. Here is a list of those tough tournaments:

BRITISH OPEN: Royal St. George's, Ben Curtis, 1 under+

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: Oak Hill Country Club, Shaun Micheel, 4 under +

AMERICAN EXPRESS CHAMPIONSHIP: Capital City Club, Tiger Woods, 6 under

MASTERS: Augusta National, Mike Weir, 7 under +

U.S. OPEN: Olympia Fields, Jim Furyk, 8 under +

CANADIAN OPEN: Hamilton Golf & CC, Bob Tway, 8 under.

NISSAN OPEN: Riviera Country Club, Mike Weir, 9 under

WACHOVIA CHAMPIONSHIP: Quail Hollow Club, David Toms, 10 under

GREATER MILWAUKEE OPEN: Brown Deer Park, Kenny Perry, 12 under

NEC INVITATIONAL: Firestone Country Club, Darren Clarke, 12 under.

CHRYSLER CHAMPIONSHIP: Copperhead Westin Innisbrook, Retief Goosen, 12 under.

+ major championship

World Golf Championship event

_ BOB HARIG

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