JERSEY CITY, N.J. – When explaining there is no prototypical golfer, we can point to any number of examples to prove this theory. Take the case of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, polar opposites not only in the side from which they swing, but in the way they approach the game. Or a pair like Tom Watson and Jordan Spieth, as the former made a PGA Tour cut earlier this summer at age 63, while the latter claimed his first career victory as a teenager.
As if we needed further proof that there is no right or wrong approach or age or even shape of a successful golfer, it comes staring back at us from the top of The Barclays leaderboard, with full-bellied Kevin Stadler taking the lead with a 7-under 64 and flat-bellied Camilo Villegas among those just one stroke back after a 65.
“I don't think I'll ever in my life look like Camilo,” joked Stadler, a carbon copy of his Masters-winning father. “That's for sure.”
While they may look like the PGA Tour’s version of The Odd Couple, Stadler and Villegas own recent results that look eerily similar. They’ve each made the cut in 14 starts this season, twice finishing inside the top-10. It would be too dark to maintain they were both limping into these FedEx Cup Playoffs, but neither was exactly on a torrid pace entering this week, either.
For Stadler, the opening round may be representative not of what he’s done so far on the PGA Tour, but what he’s capable of doing. In 230 previous events, he’s never won, earning a pair of runner-up finishes, but no gleaming trophies. It goes without saying that in a field featuring 123 of this year’s 125 top performers, he wasn’t exactly one of the favorites.
“I've had kind of a pretty lousy summer, result-wise, but really started hitting the ball a lot better a couple weeks ago and was looking forward to playing some golf again here recently,” he said. “Felt like I was heading in the right direction, even though the results were not showing it and finally got something out of it today.”
Stadler opened with birdies on five of his first eight holes and later added two more without blemishing his scorecard with a single bogey. It was a pretty remarkable achievement in a start-stop-start-stop round that featured two lengthy weather delays.
Then again, those breaks afforded one of the better quotes of the year from Stadler when he finally finished some 10 hours after his 8:27 a.m. tee time.
“I'm never really mentally prepared,” he deadpanned. “[So it was the] same as usual.”
Villegas, meanwhile, was flashing the type of form that once ensured him of becoming a breakout player in the playoffs. Five years ago, he earned his first career PGA Tour victory at the BMW Championship, then followed with another at the Tour Championship two weeks later.
Since then, though, his road to superstardom has taken a dark and winding turn.
He owns just one victory – at the 2010 Honda Classic – since then and after three top-10s at majors in the years 2008-10, he’s made just a single cut in majors in the past three years.
What’s been the problem? There were rumors of more style than substance. (He has since stopped reading putts in the Spiderman style that had garnered so much attention.) Rumors of a fitness regimen tailored more to a triathlete than a golfer. (He’s been known to bike 100 miles in a single workout.) And rumors of a putting stroke that just couldn't cut it on a regular basis. (The stats prove this one, even if the old eyeball test doesn’t.)
His own spin on why he played so well at Liberty National on Thursday is a comment that could rival Stadler’s in entertainment value.
“Three breakfasts, three warmups, two lunches and a bunch of birdies, which is good,” he smiled. “It was a good day. I was able to stay patient. I knew it was going to be just a grind in terms of just all this stuff that was going on, and was happy to play well, happy to finish the round.”
Getting off to a strong start is nothing new for Villegas. He’s opened with a score of 65 or better on four previous occasions this season, but never finished better than T-48 in any one of them. It’s something on which he knows he needs to work.
“Well, it's a new day,” he explained. “A bad round is a bad round. Doesn't matter if it's second round, third round, fourth round. … My game is coming back. I'm gaining confidence and I'm feeling better. I'm excited and it's a matter of taking it one at a time and the game of golf, it's a crazy game. It's great when we have the confidence. It's not so good when you lack confidence.”
Upon first glance, Stadler and Villegas – like so many other Odd Couples in the game – don’t appear to have much in common. Take a look at their recent results, current leaderboard placement and what a win would mean to each, though, and you’ll understand they’re more alike than they seem.