2006: Rookie Master Bids
By Jeff Babineau
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Camilo Villegas and J.B. Holmes, paired together for the third round of The Players Championship, spent their day talking about normal things that PGA Tour rookies talk about.
And then they broached one subject rookies barely, if ever, discuss: Getting to Augusta National and the Masters.
For both, it was an attainable goal. Villegas, who started the week as an alternate at TPC Sawgrass, got in at the 11th hour when Chris DiMarco withdrew because of sore ribs. Villegas took advantage of the opportunity, tying for third with three others at 5-under 283. Villegas collected $384,000, moving from 15th to 11th on the 2006 earnings list with $1,246,931.
Holmes had started the week at No. 11, but slipped to 15th
after tying for 38th at The Players.
Villegas, 24, needed roughly another $95,000 in order to climb into the top 10 in earnings and gain his first Masters invite. Barring a special, late foreign exemption from Augusta National, he’ll be watching this year’s tournament from home.
“I gave it my best,” he said, “and it looks like it’s not going to happen. But hopefully there will be plenty of Masters for me in the future.”
After barely making the cut (74-70), Villegas made a significant move during the weekend. If there was a perception he’s a one-dimensional player (he ranks third on Tour in driving distance, at 308.5 yards), he erased it with his overall play at the Stadium Course. It was his third top-3 finish since early February, adding to runner-up performances at the FBR Open and Ford Championship.
After Villegas made a nifty par save at the 72nd hole, fellow competitor Jim Furyk extended his right hand and said, “Helluva weekend. Is that going to get you into the Masters?”
Said Villegas: “It’s probably going to be short. But I gave it my best.”
Villegas’ performance at TPC marked the continuation of a gradual, steady progression. When he arrived at the University of Florida by way of Colombia, Villegas was a skinny kid who couldn’t hit a golf ball out of his shadow. But he worked hard, worked out and made himself into an All-American by the time he left. Last year, he continued to grow by earning a PGA Tour card through his play on the Nationwide Tour.
“And now I’m here,” he said early Sunday evening. “It’s so fun to see those doors opening for you, and it’s all about having the desire to go and chase those opportunities and to make the best of it.”
Englishman Greg Owen was another player who had a shot at earning a late invitation to the Masters. He made the two-hour-plus drive from Orlando to Ponte Vedra Beach having barely slept Sunday after throwing away the Bay Hill Invitational with a double bogey-bogey finish. By 5:30 a.m. Monday, he was in his driveway, washing his car.
Owen, ranked 53rd in the Official World Golf Ranking at the start of the week, needed a good finish at The Players – top 13 by most estimates – to move into the top 50 and get into his first Masters. In the third round, however, he watched that chance slip away with two bad holes – a quadruple-bogey 8 at the fourth and a double-bogey 6 at the 18th. He shot 77, then closed with 73 on a difficult Sunday.
“Same story again,” said Owen, who only moved up one spot in the OWGR. “One of those things. I battled hard and got nothing out of it. That hurt. (Saturday’s finish) took me out of a chance of doing something special this week . . . We’ll see what happens. If not, I have two weeks off. I need some rest. I’ve played nine of 10 (events).”
Asked if getting into the Masters would remove the harsh sting of his shocking finish at Bay Hill March 19, Owen said, “No. Unless I win it (the Masters). I mean, it happened. It’s always there. A great opportunity missed.”