Chonburi (Thailand): There aren`t many who have to get up at 4 in the morning on their 40th birthday to play a round of golf, but Jeev Milkha Singh, India`s best-known name in the sport, smiles and takes it in his stride.
"That comes with the job," Jeev said before setting out for his first round at the season-ending inaugural Thailand Golf Championships at the Amata Spring Resorts near Bangkok.
Jeev shot 71 while playing with Sergio Garcia (76) and Shingo Katayama (77).
Jeev`s birthday, however, seemed to have been marked with a special round of 12-under 60 by the leader Lee Westwood, whose management company is the same as that of Jeev. The mercurial John Daly (65) was five behind.
Interestingly, another Indian player here, Chiragh Kumar, too celebrated his 28th birthday, but had a rough day with a 78.
The best Indian on view was Gaganjeet Bhullar (70) in 16th place while Jeev was 27th. Rahil Gangjee (72), Jyoti Randhawa (73) SSP Chowrasia and Shiv Kapur (74), Digvijay Singh (75), Himmat Rai (77), Chiragh Kumar (78) had a rough day.
Jeev`s family, including his father, the legendary Milkha Singh, mother, Nirmal, wife Kudrat and two-year-old son, Harjai, are in attendance in Bangkok.
But Jeev laughed off and dismissed talks that he could be distracted.
"This is my job. Usually birthdays are at home in India, but now with the season extending into middle of December, I am here. I wanted my family to be with me, so they all came down," he said.
"I keep thinking that it has been 19 years (he turned pro in 1993) of pro golf," said Jeev.
The celebration is going to be a muted one. "It will be a quiet dinner at the hotel as the course is two hours from the hotel and we need to get out early at 8-8.30 am even for a midday start." Jeev`s father, Milkha Singh said, "He still has many years of top class golf in him. He works very hard at his game."
Jeev said: "Sure, it would be nice to have a trophy as a birthday gift, but I take things as they come. You know, I was telling some people yesterday how it was back in 1993 when I played my early events on the Malaysian Tour. In four starts, I had two wins and two seconds and I was telling myself `Hey this is easy`. Then reality set in.”
"I have had a lot of wins, but long periods of drought, too. I did not win from 1999 to 2006. And now I have not won since 2008. That is the thing with golf. I won four times each in 2006 and 2008. And every time I tee up it is with the same goal - to win," he said.
"I am feeling good. It will be five weeks rest after this week and then I start the next season in Middle East with the Desert Swing on European Tour. I have cut down my schedule and working on my fitness. As I have said before my goal is to get to the top-50 and play Majors."
Jeev had three birdies and two bogeys. "Coming at the end of a season which has had its ups and down I am alright with this round. I had two bogeys on 16th and 18th, my seventh and ninth holes of the day. I missed the 16th on the wrong side of the green and I had missed a fairly easy chip-putt on 18th. I did have good birdies on 11th, 15th and eighth."
Jeev has also played at the Amata Course in 2009 at the Royal Trophy.
"It is a lovely course and I like it," he said. Jeev last won in Japan in 2008 and, in Thailand, his last victory came at the Lexus Championship in 1999.