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Vijay Singh returns seeking Canadian win

Regardless of what happens the rest of the week, Vijay Singh has already given the Canadian Open a huge lift -- just by showing up.

With Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other top players passing up the world's third oldest pro tournament, the presence of the defending champion and second-ranked player in the world is huge.

Singh injured his back a couple of weeks ago playing ping pong with his son and withdrew from last week's Deutsche Bank Championship. Singh's decision to defend his title in the Canadian Open was great news for a tournament short on headliners.

``The back is fine,'' Singh said Wednesday. ``I could have a slight herniated disc, but at my age, the guy says everybody has that.''

Tournament officials insist this year's field is just fine, too.

``I'm always disappointed when Tiger doesn't come, but the field is as good as it's ever been,'' said Stephen Ross, executive director of the Royal Canadian Golf Association, which runs the tournament.

Maybe so, but Mickelson, Kenny Perry and Davis Love III are among the tour's household names who played the Canadian Open last year at Glen Abbey and aren't here this week. With a few extra spots to work with, 16 Canadian players, including three amateurs, are in the field.

Part of the Canadian Open's problem is that the PGA Tour schedule puts it right in the middle of a pair of tournaments on the East Coast -- the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston and next week's 84 Lumber event in Pennsylvania. It also didn't help that the Deutsche Bank's final round wasn't played until Monday.

Some players apparently weren't willing to make the long trip west after the extended stay in Boston, then have to travel back across the U.S. to play in Pennsylvania.

``It definitely hurt us,'' Ross said of the PGA's scheduling.

Even Olin Browne, a journeyman tour player who scored a rare win at the Deutsche Bank, pulled out.

Stephen Ames, a native of Trinidad who now is a Canadian citizen, said Wednesday the PGA Tour schedule favors tournaments on U.S. soil.

``It feels like we're being kicked back into a secondary category,'' Ames said. ``I wish (PGA Tour commissioner) Tim (Finchem) would look at that. We have so many foreign players now that we should share the wealth rather than just thinking Americans all the time.''

The tournament also could use another stirring Sunday finish like last year's at Glen Abbey, where Singh beat Canadian Mike Weir on the third hole of a playoff.

Weir took a three-shot lead over Singh with eight holes to play and with 40,000 fans cheering him on and pulling against Singh, Weir appeared ready to become the first Canadian in 50 years to win the national tournament.

But Weir's putting abandoned him down the stretch. Three times he stood over a putt to win -- a 10-foot birdie on the 72nd hole, a 25-foot eagle on the 18th hole in the playoff and a 5-footer for par at No. 17 on the second extra hole. He missed them all.

Singh said Wednesday he'd welcome a similar scenario this week.

``Coming down the stretch, if I'm playing with Mike Weir and I win again, it won't bother me at all,'' Singh said.

Singh's game is good enough to get him into the final group every week, but Weir has struggled since finishing fifth at the Masters in April. He came down with a stomach virus that was bad, he fell asleep on his bathroom floor and awoke the next morning with a wrenched back. He tried to come back too quickly and missed the cut in six of his next seven tournaments. Since then, his best finish has been a tie for 15th at The International.

He says he's feeling better now and his game is starting to come around.

``Physically, I feel 95 percent. Mentally, I feel very confident, more confident right now than I have at any point in the year.''

Singh has won four times this year and is second on the year's money list behind Woods with $7.3 million. He plans to play in four more tournaments and still has a shot at being the tour's leading money winner for the third year in a row.

Singh has defended two of the nine tournament wins he had a year ago -- at Houston and at the Buick Open -- and a win this week would make him the first back-to-back Canadian Open winner since Jim Ferrier did it 54 years ago.


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