PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Vijay Singh nearly escaped Thursday without confrontation.
Competing in The Players Championship in the wake of day-old news that he was suing the PGA Tour, Singh was greeted by galleries with mostly polite applause and even some spirited encouragement.
But there was the guy wearing the deer-antler hat in the first row at the first tee.
There were a couple odd cracks about deer-antler spray and venison.
And there was the boisterous guy who called him a “bum” at the 17th hole.
And there was a last drive-by insult in the 18th fairway by a fan hiking briskly toward the tee box while Singh was marching toward the 18th green.
The fan, who appeared to be in his 20s, turned as he passed Singh and screamed: “Vijay, you suck!”
Singh heard him, and he responded to the fan, who was speed walking away at what seemed record speed. This reporter couldn’t make out Singh’s response, but a marshal following Singh did hear it.
“Vijay said, `Why don’t you come here and say that,’” the marshal stated.
The insult came with Singh on his way to take a drop in the 18th fairway after rinsing his drive in the lake. Whether the insult was commentary on Singh’s errant tee shot or on the lawsuit is unclear, but it provided a jarring end to a reasonably quiet day for Singh.
Singh shot 2-over-par 74, leaving him tied for 99th, two shots outside the projected cutline.
Really, despite the few taunts, Singh faced less fan outrage than Kevin Na did for his inability to pull the trigger in the final pairing during the fourth round of last year’s Players Championship. Na heard a lot more taunts than Singh did.
With Thursday’s start of The Players, there was natural curiosity over how hometown fans would treat Singh after hearing he was suing the PGA Tour, which is headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach. Singh lives here, too, and he practically lives on the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course range on his off weeks.
It was just Wednesday when news broke that Singh had filed a lawsuit accusing the PGA Tour of “reckless administration and implementation of its anti-doping program.” Singh asserts that the Tour exposed him to “public humiliation and ridicule” during a 12-week investigation into his use of deer-antler spray. The Tour ultimately dropped its drug-policy case against Singh.
With Singh signing his scorecard Thursday, an interview request for him was made to PGA Tour media officials. Singh didn’t stop for comment after leaving scoring.
“There were a few idiots, but, overall, it wasn’t too bad,” said Garrigus, who shot 72. “Security didn’t have to step in.
“The round went fairly smoothly except for a couple of drunk guys who lit him up a little bit, which was pretty stupid. We don’t need that out here.”
When Singh reached the first tee, folks were pouring out of the grandstand in a mass exodus.
At every hole he played his way toward, it was the same thing, mass exodus.
It wasn’t what you think, though. It wasn’t some protest. Singh happened to be playing behind Tiger Woods. Folks were merely scrambling to follow Woods after he hit a shot.
When Singh arrived at the first tee, a man sat quietly wearing a small rack of deer antlers on his hat. It looked like something you would see somebody wear to a Christmas party. The man didn’t say a word to Singh, though, but later told reporters he wore them because he didn’t like the fact that Singh was suing the Tour.
Garrigus managed to get a laugh out of Singh in what could have been an uncomfortable first-tee handshake.
“So, you’re in the spotlight right now, aren’t you big guy?” Garrigus told Singh.
“Yeah, for the wrong reasons,” Singh said, as Garrigus related it.
Garrigus and Singh know each other fairly well.
“I kind of made fun of it today to loosen things up, which I do very well,” Garrigus said. “I talked to Vijay all day. Vijay and I are very friendly. We always have been. We like to talk about cars. It was business as usual.”
Garrigus said he didn’t speak to Singh about the lawsuit after that initial ice breaker.
“I didn’t get into it,” Garrigus said. “I don’t know the details. I don’t know what he’s suing for and all that stuff. He’s obviously earned the respect until everything goes through.”
Though the Singh situation created a sideshow element to the pairing, Garrigus said it didn’t bother his game. He didn’t, however, appreciate those few insults he did hear directed at Singh.
“There was a guy at 17 who called him a bum,” Garrigus said. “There were a couple guys saying `What about that spray?’ Stupid stuff.
“The only thing is he doesn’t deserve that. I don’t know how many majors he has won, how many tournaments he’s won. He’s won a lot of money out here. He deserves our respect as players regardless even if suing PGA Tour or not. It’s a delicate situation.”