Villegas off to strong start at Torrey

By Associated PressFebruary 5, 2009, 5:00 pm
2006 Buick InvitationalSAN DIEGO ' Camilo Villegas seems to play his best golf when Tiger Woods isnt around to defend a title.
 
Villegas holed out for an eagle early in his round and made a string of birdies late for a 9-under 63 on the easier North Course at Torrey Pines, giving him a three-shot lead Thursday in the Buick Invitational as he goes for a bizarre hat trick.
 
A victory this week would be his third straight at a tournament where Woods was the defending champion.
 
Villegas won the BMW Championship and Tour Championship last fall to close out the FedEx Cup portion of the season ' both won by Woods the previous year ' and he got off to a blazing start on a cloudy, chilly day along the Pacific bluffs.
 
He hit a lob wedge over the bunker and into the hole for eagle on the par-4 second hole to quickly put his name atop the leaderboard, then built his lead with three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the back nine.
 
Davis Love III, coming up on two pivotal weeks as he tries to get into the Accenture Match Play Championship, and Aaron Baddeley each shot 66 on the North while playing in the same group.
 
The best score on the South Course, site of the U.S. Open last summer, belonged to Scott Sterling and Matthew Goggin at 69. Given the disparity of these courses, the leaderboard doesnt sort itself out until everyone has played both sides.
 
Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner of the Buick Invitational, put together a solid round of 70 on the South Course with a few big par saves, including a 15-footer on his final hole.
 
British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, making his PGA Tour debut, started strong with three birdies on the opening four holes of the North Course, but a four-putt double bogey on the 17th sent him to a 71.
 
Woods is the four-time defending champion at the Buick Invitational, but still is recovering from season-ending surgery on his left knee ' a week after his U.S. Open playoff victory.
 
Im glad hes not here, Villegas said. He plays pretty good around here, I can tell you that.
 
Villegas wasnt too shabby on the North Course, which was more than 3 1/2 strokes easier than the South, but still no bargain with blustery, cool conditions, along with greens that were firmer than usual with no water on them in anticipation of rain this weekend.
 
Coming off a missed cut last week in the FBR Open, Villegas opened with a simple birdie on the par-5 first, then made a mistake with his tee shot on the 326-yard second hole by hitting his drive to the right, 50 yards from the flag with a bunker in the way.
 
Using a new 63-degree sand wedge, he popped it up over the sand and never saw it go in the hole.
 
I had a decent lie, Villegas said. I just puffed it up in the air, and I knew it was good, but I didnt see the ball go in. My caddie said, It went in. Early in the round, not much of a reaction.
 
He made some big putts on the back nine, including a 25-foot birdie on the 14th with a big break to the left. That followed a chip that bounced harder than he expected, part of the difficult of playing the firm greens.
 
It should get tougher Friday.
 
The average score on the South Course was 75.37, which is why Pat Perez was smiling after a 73. Thats like 69, he said.
 
Villegas had the right attitude going into his second round.
 
The rough is up. Its tough. It was very firm during the pro-am, he said. If it rains a little, its going to get softer, the rough is going to get a little more severe. Who knows, man? Just go out there and hit some shots.
 
Love is at No. 58 in the world ranking, needing to stay inside the top 64 after next week at Pebble Beach to qualify for Match Play, then keep going into the top 50 to get into another World Golf Championship and eventually the Masters.
 
He was pleased with a 66, for no other reason than it kept him near the top of the leaderboard going to the South Course.
 
Youve got to get off to a good start no matter what, Love said. Because three rounds on the South will bring you down.
 
Mickelson missed the cut at the FBR Open last week in his 2009 debut, but has a good omen on his side. The last two times he missed the cut on the West Coast, he won the following week. Lefty made a collection of good par saves, but got away with a mental mistake at the end of his round.
 
He decided to hit driver to get to the front of the green, setting up an easy up-and-down for birdie, but he couldnt go right. And he went right, into a face of a bunker. From there, he hit into another bad lie in a greenside bunker, and did well to blast out to 15 feet. But he made the putt, and all was well.
 
It wasnt the smartest play there, he said. I should have hit 3-wood down there and taken 6 out of play. But thats what happens. I was fortunate to walk away with par.
 
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  • Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

    Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

    By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

    He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

    The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

    Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

    Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

    3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

    5/2: Rory McIlroy

    7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

    9/2: Justin Rose

    5/1: Brooks Koepka

    15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

    10/1: Adam Scott

    12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

    15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

    20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

    25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

    30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes