(Reuters) - Former world number one Vijay Singh sued the PGA Tour for “reckless administration and implementation” of its anti-doping program on Wednesday, a week after golf’s premier tour dropped a doping case against the Fijian.
Three-times major winner Singh was initially found by the PGA Tour to have breached the sport’s doping rules after using a spray, which contains a banned substance, to treat an injury but he was later cleared of any wrongdoing after winning an appeal.
He filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on Wednesday, and issued a statement saying the PGA Tour had damaged his reputation.
“I am proud of my achievement, my work ethic and the way I live my life,” Singh said in the statement.
“The PGA Tour not only treated me unfairly, but displayed a lack of professionalism that should concern every professional golfer and fan of the game.”
Although he never failed a drugs test, Singh was deemed to have breached golf’s rules on doping when he told Sports Illustrated earlier this year he had used deer antler spray to address knee and back problems.
The spray was found to have contained small extracts of IGF-1, a growth hormone on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of prohibited substances.
The PGA Tour notified Singh on February 19 that he would be banned for 90 days following his admission but the Fijian appealed, saying he was unaware the spray contained any banned substances.
He was cleared last week when WADA informed the PGA Tour the use of deer antler spray was not prohibited unless a positive test resulted.
Singh, a 34-times winner on the PGA Tour, is in the field for this week’s Players Championship which starts on Thursday.
Singh’s lawyers said on Wednesday the PGA Tour violated its duty of care by suspending the golfer without properly investigating the case.
“The PGA Tour could have known by conducting some basic testing and research, the product that Singh sprayed contained no active biological ingredient and could not possibly have provided any performance enhancement,” Singh’s attorney, Peter R. Ginsberg, said in a statement.
”The PGA Tour has now finally admitted that the use of deer antler spray is not prohibited.
“Rather than performing its duties to golfers first, and then determining whether there had been any violation of the anti-doping program, the PGA Tour rushed to judgment and accused one of the world’s hardest working and most dedicated golfers of violating the rules of the game.”
The lawsuit said that Singh was seeking damages “for the PGA Tour’s reckless administration and implementation of its anti-doping program” after exposing the Fijian “to public humiliation and ridicule for months.”
Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president of communications and international affairs, told Reuters by e-mail: “We have not seen the lawsuit, just the statement. We have no comment.”
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, speaking to reporters on Tuesday ahead of this week’s Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass, said: ”Any doping case you learn something.
“There are several things here that we’re focused on, most of them procedurally. We think we have a pretty good system in place right now. We have a pretty good comfort level.”
With regard to the Singh case, Finchem said: “The fact is that WADA changed the ballgame. The game is over, pure and simple. Players understood that, end of story, really.”
Singh, 50, was ranked number one in the world on three separate occasions between 2004 and 2005. He also won three majors: the 2000 Masters and the 1998 and 2004 PGA Championship.
Renowned for his workaholic approach to the game, the Fijian has battled assorted health problems in recent years, especially with his back.
The PGA Tour launched its anti-doping program in 2008 and the variety of sanctions could include disqualification, a one-year suspension for a first violation, up to five years for a second violation and a lifetime ban for multiple violations, plus fines up to $500,000.
Since the program was launched, American journeyman Doug Barron is the only player who has been suspended for a violation. Barron, then 40, was banned for one year in November 2009 for taking a performance-enhancing drug.
Reporting by Julian Linden in New York and Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue