The PGA Tour dropped its doping case against Vijay Singh on Tuesday based on new information from the World Anti-Doping Agency, which said using deer antler spray is no longer prohibited because it contains such small amounts of a growth hormone factor.
"The bottom line is that given the change by WADA, we are dropping the case against Mr. Singh," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said on Tuesday.
Finchem said Singh's appeal of the sanctions was almost over when WADA, which had warned about the spray in February, told the tour Friday it no longer considers the use of deer antler spray to be prohibited except for a positive test result.
WADA sent the tour a written statement on Tuesday, indicating that the spray is known to contain small amounts of IGF-1.
"Based on this new information, and given WADA's lead role in interpreting the prohibited list, the tour deemed it only fair to no longer treat Mr. Singh's use of deer antler spray as a violation of the tour's anti-doping program," Finchem said, reading from a statement.
The decision ends a three-month saga that had players wondering what would happen to Singh, a 50-year-old Fijian with three major championships who is famous for the endless hours he spends on the practice range.
Singh said in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he paid USD 9,000 last November for deer antler spray, hologram chips and other products from Sports With Alternatives To Steroids. The spray was said to contain IGF-1, an insulin-like growth hormone that is on the list of banned substances under the tour's anti-doping policy.
The tour said Singh provided a sample of the spray, and tests at a UCLA laboratory confirmed the presence of IGF-1.
Even though Singh never tested positive for the banned substance, the tour's policy says that admitting to use of such a substance is a violation, positive test or not. The tour penalized Singh on Feb. 19 - Tuesday of the Match Play Championship, for which Singh was not eligible - and Singh appealed a week later.
Deer antler spray was also in the news before the Super Bowl, with a report connecting Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis to the product.
The tour contacted WADA to confirm technical points when the agency clarified its position. WADA provided a written statement to the tour Tuesday.
"We're talking about a determination that was made by scientists at WADA that relate to the consumption, through deer antler spray, of a technically violative substance, IGF-1," Finchem said. "But in looking at it, the scientists concluded it resulted in infinitesimal amounts actually being taken into the recipient's body, amounts that couldn't be distinguished even if you had an accurate test with the amount that you might take into your body from milk, etc."
He said a player taking enough IGF-1 to register a positive result is not possible "because a positive reading means that you're surpassing a certain level. There hasn't been any level ever set."
"The fact of the matter here is - as some people in the medical community pointed out when this matter came up, and now science at WADA has looked into it and concluded on their own - it's just not worth having it on the list in that context," Finchem said. "I don't know of a substance or a transfer mechanism out there that can loan a person to IGF levels that would get the attention of the WADA science people. Clearly, this isn't one. They've made that clear to us."
Finchem said he informed Singh of the decision Tuesday afternoon at Quail Hollow, where Singh is playing in the Wells Fargo Championship. Singh has dropped out of the top 100 in the world and has not won on the PGA Tour since the Deutsche Bank Championship in 2008, just months after the tour began drug testing.
"I don't think you can move ahead with a prosecution on a player given this set of facts," Finchem said. "That's our conclusion. Vijay wasn't assessed this action because he was negligent. He wasn't assessed it because he made a mistake. He was assessed it because he violated the doping code, and the doping code is predicated on a list of substances. And we're now finding from WADA that that substance doesn't trigger a positive test to admission, so we have to respect that."
Finchem declined to say what kind of suspension Singh had faced.