It was a tough day in court for Vijay Singh.
Appearing on behalf of the Hall of Fame golfer at the New York State Supreme Court on Tuesday morning, lawyer Peter Ginsberg struggled to convince Justice Eileen Bransten that Singh had suffered as a result of being treated differently than other golfers who had used deer antler spray.
While discovery revealed that as many as five other golfers used the spray without facing sanctions under the PGA Tour's anti-doping program, the Tour has argued that those players were not subject to the same set of rules as Singh because they competed primarily on the senior tour. Ginsberg called this argument a "farcical rationalization," but Bransten didn't buy it.
"I don't know much about golf but I know there are different categories [of players]," Bransten said. "I think [this argument] is irrelevant to what we're dealing with here."
Allegations of "disparate treatment" have been the cornerstone of Singh's contention that the Tour singled him out for discipline following his 2013 admission to Sports Illustrated that he had used deer antler spray, a supplement containing the banned growth hormone IGF-1, so Bransten's opinion could be a signal that the foundation of Singh's case stands on shaky ground.
After both parties left the courtroom, Ginsberg declined to comment to GOLF.com.
The dispute raises questions about the nature of competition on the senior tour, recently rebranded as the PGA Tour Champions. Jeffrey Mishkin, one of the lawyers representing the Tour, argued on Tuesday that the senior tour's "principal purpose is to give fans the chance to see former Tour players" play and claimed that senior players are not bound by the Tour's anti-doping program unless they play in a Tour event. Ginsberg countered that such a position "makes a mockery" of the senior tour by giving its players a license to "go ahead and cheat."
Ultimately, both sides returned to familiar battle lines. The Tour contended that any damage to Singh's reputation was "self-inflicted" while Ginsberg raised the specter of more sinister motivations on the part of the Tour.
"They treated him differently," Ginsberg said. "Because of a personal conflict with a Tour official? Because he's West Indian? I don't know. Maybe a jury can find out."
It's up to Bransten whether a jury will get the chance. The case has reached a critical juncture: If Justice Bransten denies each parties' motions for summary judgment, the case will proceed toward trial, though settlement negotiations would likely continue throughout the pretrial process.
According to Sports Illustrated's legal analyst Michael McCann, it's still unclear whether Bransten was hinting at a significant setback for Singh or just playing "devil's advocate" with his lawyer.
"It's hard to predict what will happen here since sometimes what a judge says during a hearing isn't always predictive as to how he or she will rule, but it sounds like the judge has some concerns about Singh's case," McCann said. "Whether those concerns lead to a granting of a summary judgment isn't clear — especially if there are other allegations of fact that remain in dispute — but I'm sure Ginsberg would have preferred the judge to express a different viewpoint today.”