Riding high on his success in the Asian and European Tour events, Jeev Milkha Singh has set his sights on becoming the first-ever Indian to play in the Masters by breaking into top-50 in the world golf rankings.
His sensational victory in the Volvo Masters of Europe will fetch him a look-in at the Majors but it is the Masters that the ace golfer is eyeing, though not through an invite but on the basis of his top-50 ranking that will earn him automatic qualification.
Since no Indian has played the Masters, Jeev, the first Indian to play and make the cut at US Open, wants to set that right.
"My first and foremost goal is to get into the top-50 of the world rankings. That will get me into the Majors. Then I want to contend at the bigger events like WGC and Masters," he said in an interview.
"The Masters is an exciting prospect. I do hope to get into the Masters. In the past, they have invited Asians to play -- like Zhang Lian-wei (China) and Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand). If I win the Order of Merit, I hope it will also get me an invite. But If I can do it through the world rankings, that's the best," he said over telephone while seated in a bullet-train from Fukuoka to Osaka.
It has been a sensational year for Jeev. Ten top-10 finishes in 15 starts in Japan, a title each in Asia and Europe and he is also the leader on UBS Asian Tour Order of Merit. He finished 16th on European Money List and is currently 12th in Japan.
"Yes, it has indeed been a great year. I suppose it is all a question of confidence. I am able to go through the process and routine in every shot and at crucial stages and that is bringing me the results," Jeev said.
But success has not come on a platter for Jeev, who has had to struggle with a seven-year winless streak.
Jeev, however, did not let the disappointment linger for long and started every event with fresh hope.
"That's what kept me going for years when I did not win. I had faith in my own abilities, but the win was not coming. I was coming close, but not close enough to win," said Jeev, whose last win before this year came at the 1999 Lexus International in Bangkok.
"Those were difficult years. I tried not to pay attention when people were questioning my belief, but it was still hard to ignore. But I am ever grateful there were so many others, who believed in me. To be frank, that's part of sport."
Jeev has travelled a lot this year but he is not complaining.
"Travelling is an essential part of a professional sportsman's life. Also, I love playing as much as I can. Many people like taking breaks in between, I prefer playing. I know the body needs rest, but with so many big events coming up, where is the time. As a pro, I have goals and I am trying to achieve them."
There have been more than a few reasons for him to throw up his feet and have a party this season. But the truth is he has not had the time.
Within hours of finishing the formalities of prize presentations and media interviews after the win at the Volvo Masters of Europe in Valderrama, he was getting ready to board a flight to Madrid en route to Japan, where he was due to play the Asahiryokuken Yomiuri Memorial 2006 golf tournament.
Earlier in the year, soon after the win in Volvo China Open, which broke his seven-year-long winless spell, Jeev was rushing to the airport to catch a flight to Shanghai for the next event.
Minutes after finishing the event in Japan after leading through the week and finally finishing second after a three-putt on the 72nd hole, he was taking a train to Osaka on way to catching a flight to Shanghai to play the HSBC Champions.
Jeev, more than anyone else, deserves to be called the 'Christopher Columbus of Indian golf', for a little more than 10 years ago soon after finishing college in the United States, he took the plunge into the high-strung world of professional golf, in a manner no other Indian had ever attempted to.
Son of India's legendary 400 metres runner, Jeev will come close to 40 events by the time he is finished with 2006.
Coming back to his greatest moment, the win in Volvo Masters of Europe in Valderrama, did he expect to win it?
"The truth is, no one can be sure of a win, but at the same time, everyone who tees up wants to win. So, I knew if I was up there with a chance on the weekend, it was a fair shot.
And when I did lead at the end of the third day, I did not put myself under any pressure. I told myself if I win, it will be great, but if I don't there is always another week."
How did things go on that amazing last day?
"I was one ahead when we started. And I knew when you lead a tournament like this, there is always a chance, plus my game was firing fine. It was a tough course, one which I had seen on television a few times. I have always believed that tough courses bring out the best in a golfer.
"On the final day, even though I was in contention all through, I did not look at the scoreboard even once. My caddie (Ippei) and I kept talking to each other, but we finally saw the scoreboard only when I came to the 18th," Jeev said.
"I saw I was leading and when I came to the green, the lead was two. So I had a cushion and could even the luxury of a bogey. I got my first par putt pretty close and then tapped in for a win. The first thought was of course, "I've done it" and then it slowly started dawning on how big this win was."
He was off on a plane within hours of that sensational win. And the very next week, he was contending for a title in Japan, where despite five years he has not won a title.
"Yes, that has crossed my mind. I have done well in Japan, but not won. I was in a pretty good position in Japan last week. I was leading by three after three rounds," said Jeev.
"I am a bit disappointed. But for that three-putt on the final hole, it has been a great fortnight after the win in Valderrama and then here for the first three days. I missed a short putt on 17th and then again the par putt on 18th," added a wistful Jeev.
Any reason why it may have happened?
"I have had a bothersome wrist for a while. I need rest but there are too many big events and I am committed. After the HSBC Champions and UBS Hong Kong Open, I will take a short break and then play the Volvo Masters of Asia. As a professional golfer, there are no excuses. You are expected to go out there and perform. That's that."
His immediate plans?
"I will carry the confidence for the next two weeks in HSBC Champions and UBS Hong Kong Open."
And what about the party to celebrate this great year?
"That will have to wait till December when I get back home to Chandigarh, and believe me it will be a big bash!"