Titleholder Sergio Garcia hopes the steamy heat will burn off the rust from his game after a seven-week break, as the Major champion aims to contend again at this week’s SMBC Singapore Open.

The 39-year-old  Spaniard won by five strokes at Sentosa Golf Club last January and said that it was special to return as the defending champion.

“It feels good (to be back),” said Garcia during a press conference with Ryder Cup teammate Paul Casey and young gun Matthew Fitzpatrick. “It is a course I love playing, a wonderful golf course, and to be here as champion is always special.”

Garcia finished 2018 on a high by playing a leading role in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory over the United States in Paris and retaining his title at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters.

His last outing was a tied sixth finish at the Honma Hong Kong Open in late November.

“It was a good off season. A little bit of rest – which was nice after a very hectic year – and I started practicing a couple of weeks ago,” said the 2017 Masters champion. “There is still a little bit of rust in there but hopefully I will get it off in this heat.”

Casey, the highest world ranked player in the field at number 24, hopes to have a bit of an advantage over Garcia and fellow Englishman Fitzpatrick as he has played two times already this year.

He tied 16th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions before missing the cut at the Sony Open with both events played in Hawaii.

“I played events in Hawaii so I am already in the thick of it – I am going to have to go some to beat these guys (Garcia and Fitzpatrick) and the rest of the field – so hopefully I will be the least rusty of the three,” said the 41-year-old Casey.

He added that his form was mixed in Hawaii but that should have little bearing during the SMBC Singapore Open as the Serapong Course, which he last competed on in 2012, is one he loves playing.

“I am really looking forward to this (week), it has been a while (since I was here). The last performance I had I think it was reasonable (tied 10th),” said Casey, who won the Valspar Championship on the PGA Tour last year.

“(We played) two very different golf courses (in Hawaii). The Tournament of Champions (there are) 100-yard wide fairways and you get to Honolula for the Sony and (there are) some of the narrowest fairways you play all year,” he commented.

“It was mixed and trying to find the balance was a little bit difficult. It certainly highlighted what I need to work on, right now, to get my game to where it needs to be for the rest of the year.

“I was not quite as sharp as I would like to have been. But that does not have much bearing on what this week is going to bring. This is a golf course that I remember really thoroughly enjoying playing and (has) the types of grass I like to play on. I recall it being very windy so touch wood it is not going to be that way this week.”

Fitzpatrick, the world number 40 who finished runner-up at the Honma Hong Kong Open in  his last outing before the off season, said that he was looking forward to launching his 2019 campaign at the SMBC Singapore Open.

He revealed that he visited Sentosa Golf Club during a family holiday when he was just nine years old but this week was his first experience playing it.

“The course is in fantastic condition and I am really looking forward to the week,” said the 24 year old who is a five-time winner on the European Tour.

“I got back to work (after the off season)  and have been practicing for five weeks straight trying to get into shape so I can compete with these guys (Garcia and Casey) a little bit more,” he said.

The US$1 million SMBC Singapore Open, a joint sanctioned event between the Asian Tour and the Japan Golf Tour Organisation, tees off on Thursday.

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