MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Bullying golf’s ageing luminaries on the PGA’s Champions Tour is an option that sprightly 50-year-old Vijay Singh would rather not take as he battles to rebuild confidence following a troubled year marred by a doping controversy.
The big Fijian made his Champions Tour debut in Hawaii in September but was not enamoured of the experience, and still fancies himself a threat on the regular tour despite five years without a win.
“I played one (Champion’s event) a couple of months ago. It was different,” the former world number one told reporters on Wednesday at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, where he will contest this week’s Australian Masters against reigning champion Adam Scott and world number eight Matt Kuchar.
“I’m not looking really forward to playing there at the moment.”
The last of Hall of Famer Singh’s 34 U.S. PGA Tour titles was the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2008, but the three-times major champion showed he was far from a spent force with a runner-up finish at the season-opening Frys.com Open.
That was followed by a T23 result at the Las Vegas Open and a disappointing missed cut at McGladrey Classic in Georgia at the weekend, but Singh feels confident enough about his game to dismiss his last result as a blip.
“My game’s pretty good right now. I had a pretty ordinary season last and a couple before that with a couple of operations on my knee,” he said.
“But this is the first year that I feel like I’m able to compete again and my games coming around.
“I’ve changed a little bit on my golf swing and I’ve gained a few yards and that’s a big factor in the regular tour.
“I’ve got a new caddie, and gone back to the short putter so I’m really excited and looking forward.”
Singh’s year continues to be overshadowed by a doping case that broke in January when he admitted to using a spray that contained small extracts of IGF-1, a growth hormone on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of prohibited substances, to treat an injury.
He was initially found by the PGA Tour to have breached the sport’s doping rules but was later cleared of any wrongdoing after winning an appeal.
He subsequently filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York and issued a statement saying the PGA Tour had damaged his reputation.
The legal action is ongoing, and though Singh blamed the controversy for affecting his game, he said he was no longer playing with “negative” feelings.
“It kind of messed up my whole season so the best thing I told myself is just focus on what I know best which is just playing golf,” said Singh, who makes his return to Royal Melbourne since the 2011 President’s Cup.
“The legal side will take care of itself.
Once mentioned alongside Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as a heavyweight of the sport, Singh’s struggles in recent seasons have stung the Fijian’s pride and he said he had put too much pressure on himself.
“I think I’ve pushed myself so hard trying to play good,” said Singh, who won his two PGA Championships and a U.S. Masters in a golden period from 1998-2004.
“I want to win again. I haven’t won in a few years and there’s a lot of signs that I’m playing well again.
“I think I want to win so bad, that’s what’s bugging me so much ... I don’t want to go out there and be on the senior tour.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury