Kim Villegas try to move closer to the top

By Associated PressJanuary 7, 2009, 5:00 pm
PGA TourKAPALUA, Hawaii ' Tiger Woods sometimes will glance over his shoulder on his highway to history, not worried about anyone on his bumper but curious to see what the traffic looks like behind him.
 
He noticed Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas when they effectively were still learning to drive.
 
Villegas was still a raw but talented rookie when he livened up the Miami crowd and finished second to Woods three years ago at Doral. Kim joined the Tour a year later, mostly making news with his mouth, but showing enough game to get the attention of golfs best player.
 
Woods had a clear view of their potential while recovering from two knee surgeries last year.
 
Kim broke Woods scoring record at the Wachovia Championship with a five-shot victory, then won Woods tournament with a 65 at Congressional in the AT&T National. He was sixth on the PGA Tour money list and moved up 63 spots to No. 12 in the world ranking.
 
Villegas took baby steps until bursting through with victories in the BMW Championship and Tour Championship ' both won by Woods the previous year ' to finish second in the FedEx Cup and move up 49 spots to No. 7 in the world.
 
You knew that was coming, their talent, Woods said last month. That was just a matter of time before they broke through and won events. To see the young guys playing better only is going to make it more difficult to win events.
 
The question is whether their time is now.
 
Kim and Villegas, two players who emerged during Woods absence, will be paired together in the second-to-last group when the 2009 season gets under way Thursday at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, a winners-only field of 33 players missing the top four from the world ranking.
 
Ive been looking forward to this tournament for a long time, said the 23-year-old Kim. I feel like Ive come a long way with my game and my attitude. And hopefully, if I can just stay on this roll, I feel like Ive turned a corner. And if I can just keep my head down and stay focused, Im going to be in good shape for this year.
 
Villegas, the Colombian who turned 27 on Wednesday, will be going for his third straight PGA Tour victory while trying to forget the enormous success he had at the end of last year.
 
It was a great finish to the year, he said. But on Thursday, we start from zero.
 
Woods is still recovering from knee surgery and wont play for at least another two months, perhaps enough time to lose his No. 1 ranking to Sergio Garcia, who turns 29 this week and arguably played better than anyone over the last nine months. Garcia is skipping Kapalua because he is home in Spain and is playing next week in Abu Dhabi.
 
Also missing is British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, who is taking his winter break; and Phil Mickelson, who stopped coming to Kapalua in 2002.
 
But there are plenty of new faces at the Plantation Course ' only six players were in the field a year ago, and 13 newcomers to the event include Andres Romero of Argentina, the PGA Tour rookie of the year and another young star who gets overlooked.
 
Defending champion Daniel Chopra will play with FedEx Cup champion Vijay Singh.
 
Even so, the focus is on youth.
 
Zach Johnson, the former Masters champion, was talking about Kim as a young player who is up and coming until he stopped himself in mid-sentence and smiled.
 
I shouldnt say up-and-coming. Hes here, Johnson said. Hes established himself. But hes one of those kids that could really take golf to another level.
 
Along with his two victories on two of the better golf courses, Kim really made a name for himself at the Ryder Cup with his fearless play, boundless energy and 5-and-4 thumping of Garcia in the leadoff singles match.
 
Hes got the swagger, hes got all the tools, Woods said. Its just a matter of him working hard and continuing to improve.
 
Kim promises to follow the advice.
 
Born in Los Angeles of Korean heritage, he brought the smack of LA streets to the genteel sport of golf, and rubbed plenty of people the wrong way with his brash talk. But he was lacking the work ethic until watching Woods late in the 2007 season, and getting some stern advice from Mark OMeara.
 
Since then, Kim tries to keep it simple and keep it quiet. And even as he appears on the cover of more magazines, he appears grounded.
 
Its hard not to notice, but at the same time, it doesnt affect me in the last bit, Kim said of the attention. And the reason is, Ive always thought that I was able to achieve some pretty high, lofty goals. I never thought it would be any other way. I thought one day it was going to happen, and it happens to be now.
 
Hopefully, if I just stay on the right path, Ill have a pretty bright future.
 
Villegas found the difference between working hard and working long hours, making sure he didnt spend time on the range unless he was making small improvements. He feels like the same player before his consecutive victories, except for that invaluable confidence.
 
Theres a little fear thats not there anymore. Theres no doubt, he said. Before you win a golf tournament, you know youre good enough, but you havent done it. And you ask yourself, When is it going to happen? But after you do it, its just like, You know what? I did it before, why cant I do it again?
 
But the key is to sustain that success, not only this year but when Woods returns.
 
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”