Commentary

Villegas' rise points to the start of a new order, after Tiger, in professional golf

Originally Published: October 6, 2008
By Tim Rosaforte | GolfWorld

Harig On Flubbed Finale

It was a dream ending at the Tour Championship on Sunday with Camilo Villegas edging Sergio Garcia in a playoff. Oh, except for the virtually meaningless finish to the FedEx Cup playoffs. Bob Harig

Lost in the micro-analysis of the FedEx Cup points system was the macro-development not only of Camilo Villegas as a bona fide world-class star with sticking power, but also the budding rivalry between the 26-year-old Colombian; Sergio Garcia, 28; and Anthony Kim, 23. Villegas and Garcia are like brothers, dining together at night and ribbing each other by day, both in English and Spanish. One night at Nan, a popular Thai restaurant in Atlanta, the two international players sat at a table for 15 -- along with their caddies, who are extremely close -- and a group of friends including Greg Norman's daughter Morgan Norman, who is dating Garcia again. It was reminiscent of the way European Tour players socialize at night and compete during the day.

Kim is new to the group, but accepted as the third member of golf's new brat pack. As he completed an interview Saturday afternoon with NBC's Jimmy Roberts, Kim got a little bump from Villegas who, having already noted the Sunday tee times, said "You and me tomorrow."

Villegas' rise in the wake of Tiger Woods' absence (he's now seventh on the World Ranking, just behind the fifth-ranked Garcia and sixth-ranked Kim) can be attributed to his work ethic. Before he was a ripped rock-star type in white pants, shirt, hat and shoes that make him the tour's No. 1 heartthrob, Villegas arrived at the University of Florida as a skinny kid from Medellin with substance underneath all that style. "We knew he was a special kid," said Florida coach Buddy Alexander. "He always was so focused on what he needed to do to get better. He went way beyond what we were doing in the weight room, so he got a lot stronger, and consequently a lot longer."

Round 4 highlights

For more Playoffs coverage visit PGATOUR.com

WATCH VIDEO: Final-round highlights of the Tour Championship.

Villegas made a splash when he finally earned his tour card in 2006 after one year of development on the Nationwide Tour. An original bomb-and-gouge poster child (along with J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson), Villegas had more all-around game, and showed it with top-3 finishes at TPC Scottsdale, Doral and TPC Sawgrass in his rookie year. His sophomore season produced a playoff loss at the Honda Classic along with five other top-10 finishes, but this year not much was happening until the British Open -- where a 65 in the second round earned a third-round pairing with Norman -- and the PGA Championship, where he shot 67-68 on the 36-hole Sunday at Oakland Hills for a T-4.

Off the course, Villegas has been busy building a new home along the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter, Fla. It's not far from the compound Woods is building on Jupiter Island, and near Raymond Floyd's Old Palm GC. Villegas set up shop there along with his brother, Manuel, a fellow Florida Gator who turned pro this summer and immediately won the Colombian Open. They left Tuesday for an event in Japan.

One thing they don't share is Camilo's new love for cycling. Featured in Men's Fitness as one of the most finely conditioned athletes on the PGA Tour, golf's Spider-Man is quite a sight all decked out in bike shorts and jersey, hair flying out of his helmet.

"I went home [to Colombia] five months ago and one of my buddies called me up," Villegas explained. "He got a cycle and said, 'Let's go up the mountain'; this mountain I used to drive up to get to the golf course. I didn't know if I was going to make it, but when I got to the top, I said 'I love this thing.' "

When Villegas returned to Florida, he bought an exotic road bicycle. Three days later he called the bicycle shop, looking for people to ride with. Next thing he knew, he was geared up and part of a cycling club that meets four days a week for rides of between 35 and 60 miles through Jupiter Island and along the Florida coast, at speeds of 30 miles per hour or more. "It's not easy," Villegas said, "but it's so peaceful and pretty sweet."

Something else that's pretty sweet is winning, which Villegas has now done two starts in a row after his victory at East Lake as well as at the BMW Championship.

Final FedEx Cup Standings

Vijay Singh clinched the second FedEx Cup on Sunday at East Lake Golf Club and collected $10 million for winning the PGA Tour's playoffs.

Place Player Points Payout
1. Vijay Singh 125,101 $10 million
2. Camilo Villegas 124,550 $3 million
3. Sergio Garcia 119,400 $2 million
4. Anthony Kim 114,419 $1.5 million
5. Jim Furyk 113,180 $1 million
6. Mike Weir 113,118 $800,000
7. Phil Mickelson 112,201 $700,000
8. Justin Leonard 111,638 $600,000
9. Ben Curtis 110,702 $550,000
10. K.J. Choi 110,646 $500,000
• Complete final standings

"It's awesome," he said. "Again, I've worked so hard. Thanks to the team that's behind me. I can't do it as an individual. There are a lot of people behind me. They've believed in me. They've supported me, and they've motivated me to just put in all those hours, to work hard."

One of those team members is Dr. Gio Valiante, the sports psychologist who also Singh. Valiante was on the practice green at East Lake on Sunday night, surveying the scene as Villegas and Singh held their trophies and posed for photos with executives from Stanford Financial, one of their sponsors. It seemed fitting that arguably two of the hardest-working gym rats on the PGA Tour would hold the hardware and the cash at the end of a 38-week season, but the year was not complete.

After celebrating that night at Nan, before Villegas headed to Japan. As he said, he has to work next week. He knows Garcia and Kim won't be backing off.

"The center of everything we do is work ethic," Valiante said. "There was a moment at dinner when we were sitting next to each other, and I said to him, 'Let me tell you something. It's easier to get to No. 7 in the world than to stay there.' He looked at me and said, 'You've got it, bro.' "

Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for GolfWorld and Golf Digest magazines.

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