Singh sets sights on return to golf's elite

The former world No. 1, Vijay Singh currently sits at No. 35 in the Official World Golf Ranking. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Only two players in the past 10 years have ascended to the No. 1 ranking in golf. One of them still holds that position despite his rather well-publicized bout of inactivity.

The other still aspires to such lofty heights, even though he has dropped to depths he is unaccustomed to while battling the perception that too many pages on the calendar have turned, too many balls on the range have been beaten.

It has been a long time since you had to look so far down the list of players on the Official World Golf Ranking before finding Vijay Singh's name.

"I don't know where I'm at now," Singh said. "But I know I'm not supposed to be there."

Singh is now 35th in the world, having moved up two spots this week. It has been quite a fall when you consider that Singh began the 2009 season ranked fifth.

Or that when he dropped to 26th this year after the Sony Open, it was the first time he had fallen out of the top 20 in the world since the 1997 British Open.

"The bottom line is, it's going to be OK," Singh said Thursday after opening the Honda Classic with a 3-under-par 67 at PGA National's Champion course. "[If] you play OK, the ranking is going to fix itself."

Singh, 47, has spent most of the past year trying to get himself right after knee surgery that made 2009 one of the worst seasons of his career.

It had been a dramatic drop-off for Singh, who finished 68th on the money list after 11 straight years of being in the PGA Tour's top five.

He also went winless for the first time since 2001 and saw his world ranking plummet.

"Last year was … I can say … it was a big downer for me," said Singh, who was No. 1 in the world for 32 weeks in 2004 and 2005. "I had a lot of injuries that I had to deal with, and when I played, it kind of made it even worse. So I'm trying to put that away and start anew.

"I'm looking forward to the Florida swing, and here it's arrived. I think it's going to be a good year regardless of what I do. I think, physically, I'm great again, and I have a great trainer who is working really hard and getting me in shape. My game is coming around, too. I'm trying to forget last year and make a new start."

Singh had right knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in January 2009 and probably returned to golf too soon. For the first time since he began playing the PGA Tour full time in 2003, Singh did not have a top-three finish and had only three top-10s.

Much of it had to do with the knee, and Singh admitted it bothered him so much that he had surgery again in December.

So far, Singh has showed little form this year. A tie for 35th at Pebble Beach is his best finish in four starts, which include a first-round exit two weeks ago from the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

But Singh, who this year celebrates the 10-year anniversary of his 2000 Masters victory, is upbeat. He plans to play all four events in Florida and isn't discounting a run at Augusta National.

"I think this year I will," he said. "I'm probably in better shape now than I've been for a while. I'm hitting the ball as long as before. That's the key. To get the ball out there with the young kids and not be intimidated."

Apparently, Singh is having no trouble with that.

"You don't realize he's 47 when you're playing with him," said tournament leader Nathan Green, 34, who played in the same threesome as Singh and Padraig Harrington. "His game is strong. He pulled a couple of drives, and that's about it. The rest of it was solid.

"He's had a lot of success in his 40s. The shape he keeps in, he's pretty much equivalent to any of the guys out here in their 30s. He's looking after himself and reaping those rewards."

Singh, who didn't join the PGA Tour until he was 30, has 34 PGA Tour victories, which is 14th on the all-time victory list. The only active players ahead of him are Woods (71) and Phil Mickelson (37).

And both of those future Hall of Famers would be hard-pressed to match Singh's production in his 40s. He has won 22 times -- matching the number of victories in Raymond Floyd's career -- and surpassing the previous record of 17 held by Sam Snead.

As for his age? It's only a number to Singh.

"I'm 47, and I feel healthy," he said. "I'm not looking forward to 50. I feel fit. My game is better than it's been for a long, long time. I'm really not looking forward to even taking about the Champions Tour now.

"Kenny Perry had a great season last year, and he's almost 50 … and I'm a lot healthier and fitter than Kenny Perry. So I think I can go a long ways."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.