(Reuters) - With three major championships to his name, Vijay Singh rarely feels the need to prove himself on a golf course these days but the former world number one admits to feeling the pressure this week ahead of the Fiji International.
The Florida-based 51-year-old, now in the twilight of his career, has returned to the land of his birth for the first time in eight years for the inaugural $1 million tournament, which starts on Thursday at the Natadola Bay Golf Course.
“It’s the first time in 35 years that I’ve played a tournament here,” he told a news conference at the course on Wednesday.
”I‘m excited to play here, there’s going to be a lot of pressure trying to play here and win.
“I‘m going to try and win this tournament and play the best I can, so that’s the pressure I have to deal with.”
Victory at the tournament, co-sanctioned by the Australian PGA and the OneAsia tour, would give Singh a first title in six years and if he fails to win, it will not be because he is unfamiliar with the course.
Singh returned to the island nation after a break of nine years in 2005 to design it, taking the opportunity to appeal for the indigenous Fijians and ethnic Indians to live together in harmony after years of communal tension.
“A lot more people recognise me this time around than when I came here before to build the golf course,” he added.
“And it was nice. I rode around my old stomping grounds, where I grew up, the golf course where I grew up, the house where I grew up and it was nice.”
Singh’s last professional wins came in 2008 but he showed some of the form which made him number one for 32 weeks in 2004 and 2005 when he finished tied for 36th place at last week’s U.S. PGA Championships in Louisville, Kentucky.
With two U.S. PGA triumphs and one U.S. Masters win among more than 50 career titles, Singh is without doubt his country’s most successful sportsman.
He hopes the arrival of international golf will inspire young Fijians to follow in his footsteps and to that end was disappointed that local golfers were forced to go through a special qualifying event.
”I was very surprised about that,“ he said. ”I think they should have given the Fiji local golfers at least five spots without qualifying.
“It is a tournament in Fiji and in any other country they would give five to 10 spots to the local golfers.”
Singh’s brother Krishna will tee off on Thursday, however, which only adds to the sense of the familiarity for the 28-times winner on the U.S. PGA Tour.
“Everyone seems to be like family again, I meet somebody and they remember me from 15 years,” he added.
“Hopefully they come out here and watch me play. It’s not too many years left for me to go out here and play at the level I can play and win golf tournaments.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien