Villegas Enjoying Quick Rise into Spotlight

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2005 Honda ClassicPALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- He played before huge galleries when paired with Michelle Wie earlier this year at the Sony Open, then had thousands more watching him stalk Tiger Woods at Doral last week.
 
Camilo Villegas embraced the attention both times'and probably lured fans his way in the process.
 
The PGA Tour rookie from Colombia is off to a sizzling start, with two runner-up finishes in six events and already pocketing $821,571 in earnings. He was one shot behind Woods at the Ford Championship, vaulted to 95th in the world rankings and now seeks more success at the Honda Classic, which opened Thursday.
 
You get playing against the best players in the world and obviously you cant control what they do, Villegas said. You can only control what you do. Its a matter of being patient, and like I said last week, its just about having fun.
 
And the 24-year-old who played college golf at Florida is having plenty of that.
 
A largely Latin crowd at Doral quickly included Villegas among its favorites, and he rewarded their interest with three rounds of 67 or better. He made two birdies over his final five holes to make a move, and wound up collecting $484,000 -- more than double his 2005 season earnings on the Nationwide tour.
 
I think hes got a lot of charisma, carries himself very well, said David Toms, who tied with Villegas for second last week. I can just tell by the way he goes about his business, and he obviously can play golf pretty well, too. So he doesnt seem like hes intimidated by whats going on out here at all.
 
The biggest thing missing from Villegas short resume is a win. And in three of the last four years, the Honda has seen a first-time PGA Tour victor, including last year, when Padraig Harrington did the honor.
 
Harrington barely held afterthought status entering the final day of the 2005 Honda seven shots back. Then he birdied 10 of his first 13 holes, shot a 9-under-par 63, and got his first triumph when Vijay Singh missed a 21/2-foot putt on the second playoff hole.
 
So now, Harrington gets his first taste of defending a tour crown.
 
Theres a lot of expectations with defending, said Harrington, an Irishman who has been a runner-up 26 times worldwide. Definitely, the easiest way to win an event is, without a doubt, to be playing well and to be under the radar.
 
That isnt the case this year, because the defending champion is thrust into a starring role entering any tournament. And none of the games seven top-ranked players'Tiger Woods, Singh, Phil Mickelson, et al.'are here, allowing Harrington to bask more in the pretournament spotlight.
 
Its still a nice problem to have, Harrington said.
 
This is Hondas finale at Mirasol; the tournament moves across the street to PGA National next year. Theres only four of the worlds top 22 players in this field, led by Toms, whos ranked eighth.
 
The course is a demanding one, with huge, sloping greens that can take even slightly misdirected approach shots and send them rolling 50 feet or more from the flag.
 
Some have complained about the setup in the past; some, like Geoff Ogilvy'who tied for sixth here last year'embrace its difficulty.
 
I dont think it was everyones favorite golf course at first, but I think its grown on people, said Ogilvy, an Australian who won this years Match Play Championship. You have to hit the ball well, you have to chip well and you have to putt well'and you have to use your brain.
 
Villegas, who also was second at the FBR Open, sounds like hell enjoy the challenge.
 
I feel good. Ive had two good weeks, he said. Thats showed me something. But that doesnt make me a top player in the world all of a sudden.
 
Divots: Nick Faldo withdrew Wednesday, and alternate Mathias Gronberg replaced him in the field. Faldo had to return to England because a family member is ill. ... Mark Calcavecchia will be playing the Honda for the 21st time. He won the event in 1987 and 1998, and is one of only three players to earn more than $1 million all-time at the event. Singh and Davis Love III, who is here, are the others. ... Jack Nicklaus is the only player to successfully defend a Honda Classic win.
 
Related Links:
  • Villegas Scorecard
  • Leaderboard - The Honda Classic
  • Full Coverage - The Honda Classic
     
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