Sentosa, Apr 4 (UNI) Jeev Milkha Singh will return to the prestigious Masters Tournament next week with every intention of challenging for glory at the Augusta National Golf Club.
The 2006 Asian Tour number one, the first Indian to feature in the Masters last year, admitted he was surprised to earn an invitation back to this year's first Major but the Indian star intends to repay the faith placed on him with a strong showing.
''It was a pleasant surprise. I never thought I would be invited back,'' Jeev said. ''I couldn't have asked for a better invite in my life, I'll always cherish this.'' Jeev's debut last year came courtesy a magical 2006 season which saw him win four times around the globe and end the year in 37th place on the Official World Golf Ranking.
He led the Masters briefly during the first round after making the turn in three under before finishing tied 10th at the completion of the day.
At the halfway stage, he was joint 15th and further rounds of 78 and 79 on a tough and frosty weekend saw Jeev wrap up his campaign in equal 37th position.
The son of an Olympic athlete, Jeev, who grew up in Chandigarh, said he will alter his game plan for his Masters assault.
''I know the golf course now and it does suit my game. But you have to stay patient especially on the greens. I will have to follow my process and routine and see what comes my way,'' he stated.
''I'm going to play it differently this time. I'm going to hit more drivers and I have decided which holes I'm going to tee off with a driver and I'm looking forward to that,'' he added.
After the highs of 2006, Singh gave himself an 'average' assessment for his 2007 campaign but two runner-up finishes this year have put him back on the right track.
''Last year was a letdown but I took it in my stride,'' Jeev, who is a five-time winner on the Asian Tour said. ''I should have played the way I played in 2006. But I'm human. My expectations went up and I was expecting more things from myself and became result orientated and forgot about my routine and process.'' ''When I don't follow my routine, I'm not able to hit the shots that I want to. I'm thinking of other stuff instead of thinking of putting in a good swing. You don't focus and that's all a human being can do. If you stick to process and routine, it falls into place,'' he added.
''2007 was average but 2008 is going to be a good year. I'm playing well and I'm looking forward to it.'' He came close at the Enjoy Jakarta Astro Indonesia Open and Ballantine's Championship in Korea recently, finishing second on both occasions. While Singh was disappointed with the outcome, he was never discouraged.
''Maybe, there's something else bigger waiting for me,'' Jeev remarked.
Part of Jeev's preparation is to play the Augusta National course countless of times in his mind, which is one of his pre-round routines.
''When I'm on Tour, I would spend the time on the way to the club to play the course in my mind, to prepare myself mentally for it.
I'll imagine what club to use on the tee shot and then play the second shot onto the green,'' he explained. ''I'll play the golf course repeatedly in my mind, over and over again. When I get to Augusta National, then I'll put it into practice. If it works for me, I'll give it a go.'' He still gets goose bumps whenever he recalls his maiden visit to the Masters,''The atmosphere, the golf course and the crowds are fantastic I can never forget that. It's such a good atmosphere. The way the players are treated there, it's different. As a kid, I always dreamt of playing in the Masters and it's my favourite Major championship. It's fantastic driving up Magnolia Lane. It's a great feeling.'' For a person who pays every attention to routine and process, Jeev has made it a point to stay in the same Indian-owned hotel in Augusta.
''I'll be at the same place, and will order some Indian food once in a while,'' he laughs.
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