Commentary

Camilo Villegas eyes Disney magic

Originally Published: October 10, 2012
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The workout routine is impressive, more so than the numerous magazine shoots he has done or the interest he has created for golf in his homeland or even the huge strides he made in coming to America from Colombia and making it as a professional golfer.

For a time, the style outweighed the substance, but then Camilo Villegas won consecutive FedEx Cup playoff events. Later he jumped into the top 10 in the world. He added a third victory just after his 28th birthday and then ... what happened to Camilo Villegas?

[+] EnlargeCamilo Villegas
AP Photo/Julie FletcherHow much has Camilo Villegas struggled in 2012? The three-time PGA Tour winner and former world top-10 player didn't qualify to play in a single major championship this year.

The last time he finished in the top 10 was more than a year ago in Malaysia, when he tied for fourth at the CIMB Classic. Prior to that, he was tied for sixth at the BMW Championship.

And that's why he is at Disney World this week, sweating out his status on the PGA Tour.

His best finish this year is a tie for 18th at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans back in April.

Things have been so bad for Villegas that he did not qualify to play in a single major championship this year.

"The game comes and kind of bites us, and the last year and a half hasn't been pretty, hasn't been too much fun, I can tell you that," said Villegas, 30, who has dropped to 214th in the world. "Even though I kept putting in the hours and the hours. You know what, sometimes it doesn't matter, you put those hours and you're not having fun, you're not going to get much out of it.

"So I've definitely changed the attitude a little bit, and I've been playing a lot better and having more fun."

The final results of late have not borne that out, but Villegas did shoot 7-under-par 65 on Thursday to tie Tommy Gainey for second place, a shot behind 18-hole leader Charlie Wi at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.

It is the last official event of the PGA Tour season and it's important to many players in the field fighting for some sort of job in 2013. The same goes for Villegas, who is 150th on the PGA Tour money list and in danger of losing his exempt status.

Only the top 125 on the final money list are fully exempt. Those who finish 126th to 150th maintain conditional status. If Villegas fell out of the top 150, he would have to go to the second stage of the PGA Tour's Qualifying Tournament next week just to try to get his exemption back.

Villegas said it has been difficult not to think of all those scenarios.

"I've proved myself that I'm a good player, I've proved myself that I belong on the PGA Tour," he said. "I've proved that I'm a PGA Tour winner, and I've done it before, so why not do it again? I'm not only talking about this week -- I'm talking about if it happens to be the Web.com [Tour] or who knows? I'm going in every direction, but my mind is just trying to enjoy playing."

Villegas captured his first two PGA Tour events during the 2008 FedEx Cup playoffs at the BMW Championship and Tour Championship. Now in his seventh year on the PGA Tour, he has earned more than $15 million but is unlikely to have to worry about the Web.com Tour, the PGA Tour's developmental circuit. As a past winner on the PGA Tour, he is eligible for unlimited sponsor exemptions.

And given his popularity and name recognition, he would get his share of invites in 2013.

But no player wants to have to rely on them. Finishing in the top 150 would at least give him limited status, and of course getting into the top 125 takes care of many problems.

Yet getting to the bottom of what has ailed Villegas is not easy. He cites no bad injuries, although you get the sense he's been battling his swing and all the physical and mental issues that go along with it.

"There have been a few little changes, the shafts on my clubs, changed the ball, changed the clubs," he said. "So equipment-wise, there were a few changes. But the biggest change is definitely mental and attitude.

"Sometimes you just wake up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror and you say life is good, and why am I miserable? And I think there were a couple times where I just made certain decisions that I kind of knew were wrong, and that's not me. I mean, life is good, why am I going to be miserable about certain little things, because that's what happens when you're playing bad. The little things just get under your skin.

"I've had a great attitude the last few months and I've been really close the last three tournaments. I had great chances. I didn't capitalize on them, but we get off to a good start and we'll keep it going."

Villegas' last victory came at the Honda Classic in 2010, a year in which he had seven top-10 finishes, including a tie for ninth at the Tour Championship.

But his 2011 season got off to a poor at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions when he was disqualified due to a rules violation, and he went on to miss 10 cuts -- although he had a solid finish to the year that never carried over in to 2012.

"Things just never clicked after that," Villegas said. "I grinded it out last year, trust me. It wasn't pretty, but I got it done during the playoffs and I was unhappy missing the playoffs this year. So again, it's time for me to kind of regroup and start playing a little better."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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