PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- A day after filing suit in the Supreme Court of New York against the PGA Tour for submitting him to "public humiliation and ridicule" over his use of deer-antler spray, Vijay Singh shot a 2-over 74 in the first round of The Players Championship.
Despite making the TPC at Sawgrass his home course since joining the tour in 1993, the 50-year-old Fijian has never won The Players. His best finish here in 20 previous starts was second place in 2001, when Tiger Woods beat him by a shot.
Shrouded in controversy since he admitted in a January Sports Illustrated article that he had used deer-antler spray, which can contain a banned substance, Singh has struggled with his game. He hasn't finished in the top 10 since a tie for fourth at the Frys.Com Open last October, and his last tour win came in 2008, when he earned three victories and captured the FedEx Cup.
On Thursday, a fan following Singh's group wore felt antlers and there were a few nasty remarks hurled at him late in the afternoon, but the spectators were mostly polite to the three-time major champion.
"(Vijay) doesn't deserve to be heckled," said Robert Garrigus, who along with J.J. Henry, played with Singh on Thursday. "He deserves our respect as players, regardless of whether or not he sued the PGA Tour."
No matter what you think about Singh's choice to sue the tour, it's hard to ignore his record as a player -- 56 worldwide wins, including a 2004 season in which he won nine times on tour.
Few players have worked harder than Singh to get to the top of the game. One of the ironies of him filing suit this week at Sawgrass is that it's the place where he built his game out of the dirt on the back of the practice range. When Paul Tesori caddied for Singh in 2001 and 2002, he said that he got a total of 24 days off in two years. But Tesori, who now works for Webb Simpson, said he couldn't complain, because Singh took off only three days over that stretch.
When Singh was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006, he said that he owed everything to golf. One of six kids, he grew up poor in Nadi, Fiji, where his father worked at the local airport. After dropping out of school at 16 to pursue a pro golf career, he began the journey that would take him all over the world in search of a place to play.
Now that wonderful story could be marred by a fight with the organization that has allowed him to obtain the American dream.
Often people are deterred from legal fights because of the hefty legal fees and the emotional costs associated with long court battles. Singh might ultimately find a measure of justice in his battle with the tour, but it's likely to come at the expense of his golf game.
How will he be able to focus with this distraction?
Through injuries and putting woes since his last win in 2008, Singh has never surrendered to Father Time or the summoning of the Champions Tour. His relentless pursuit of excellence has earned him the status as a pro's pro among his peers.
Yet what he fights for now is that reputation as a prolific worker who sacrificed everything for the game. He's long past worrying about money, awards or the approval of the golf cognoscenti.
On Thursday, Singh battled through a day that was good to 67 players who had rounds under par. But he's won too much to carry himself like anything less than a proud man with a glorious résumé. Late in his round, he showed something of that fighting spirit with birdies at 16 and 17.
After he signed his card, he rushed off to the driving range. The fire is still in him. Let's hope that it's not extinguished by a lawsuit.