LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – As final exams go, this week’s PGA Tour event at Disney World may not be as hellish as the rocket propulsion final at MIT . . . but it’s close.
When you’re the “bubble boys” in the season’s final PGA Tour event, the game asks hard questions.
Camilo Villegas found some answers in Thursday’s first round of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic with a 7-under-par 65 on the Palm Course. He's tied for second, one shot behind Charlie Wi.
Villegas is No. 150 on the PGA Tour money list, the last spot eligible for conditional status next year.
Bill Mayfair didn’t get off to quite the same hot start, opening with an even-par 72 on the Palm Course. He sits near the projected cut line.
Mayfair is No. 125 on the money list, the last spot eligible for exempt status next year.
With a short season ahead in 2013, cracking the top 125 has never seemed more important.
The nature of next year’s schedule, with its more limited opportunities, only ratchets up the pressure this week with Tour pros on the bubble looking to make sure they can win as many playing opportunities as possible next season.
“I can control my own destiny at 125,” said Mayfair, a five-time PGA Tour winner. “I’ve been through just about everything, and I’ve missed finishing in the top 125 before, but this isn’t fun.”
Mayfair was reminded how the spotlight burns on the “bubble boys” in the season finale when he looked at the tee times this week. He was paired in the first two rounds with Rod Pampling, who is No. 124 on the money list.
Mayfair, 46, was asked if he was bothered by a pairing that only adds to the pressure.
“No, the Tour wanted it, TV wanted it, and I understand,” Mayfair said. “I’m OK with it.
“Rod and I are good friends.”
Pampling opened with a 70.
Villegas, 30, is a three-time PGA Tour winner who has struggled re-tooling his swing the last two seasons.
Villegas’ last victory came in the 2010 Honda Classic. The two-year exemption that came with that title runs out this year.
“Equipment-wise, there were a few changes this year, but the biggest change is definitely mental and attitude,” Villegas said. “Sometimes, we take certain things for granted, and that’s what happens. The game comes and kind of bites us.
“The last year and a half hasn’t been pretty, hasn’t been too much fun, I can tell you that, even though I kept putting in the hours. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter, you put in the hours and you’re not having fun and you’re not going to get much out of it. So, I’ve definitely changed a little bit of the attitude. I’ve been playing a lot better now and only having more fun.”
After winning a pair of FedEx Cup events in 2008, Villegas climbed to No. 7 in the world rankings.
Today, he’s No. 214.
“I’m a very passionate guy, but I beat myself up too much sometimes,” Villegas said. “When you beat yourself up a little bit too much, there are little things that make you miserable.”
Villegas is seeing a new attitude affect his performance. He has recorded three consecutive top-30 finishes this fall.
“I’ve proved to myself that I’m a good player,” Villegas said. “I’ve proved I belong on the PGA Tour, and I’ve done it before, so why not do it again?”