LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The PGA Tour season is (finally) coming to a close. The final event of the year, the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, got under way Thursday at Walt Disney World Resort. Charlie Wi is the first-round leader after shooting 64 on the Palm Course. It’s the eighth first-round lead of Wi’s PGA Tour career. He’s never won, but is a five-time runner-up. A victory this week may allow Wi to crack the top 30 on the PGA Tour money list and thus earn his first Masters invitation.
Here are 5 Things you need to know as players scramble to earn one last paycheck before the year comes to a close:
1. SUNNY SIDE UP: A change in attitude seems to be helping Camilo Villegas as he tries to avoid Q-School. Villegas, who’s kept his PGA Tour card every year since his rookie season of 2006, started this week at No. 150 on the money list with with $460,474.
He shot a first-round 65 and trails Wi by a shot. Villegas, a three-time PGA Tour winner, had signed up for Q-School’s second stage, but would only have to attend if he fell out of the money list’s top 150. As proof that golf plays no favorites, Villegas’ younger brother, Manuel, also is in Q-School’s second stage. Camilo will be exempt into Q-School’s final stage if he stays in the top 150, and retain his PGA Tour card if he can crack the top 125.
He started this cool, windy day at Disney with a three-putt on the 10th hole at Disney’s Palm Course. “It was cold for a Colombian,” he joked. He rebounded with birdies at Nos. 13-16, made another on the second hole, then made a hat trick of birdies on Nos. 6-8.
Villegas, a three-time PGA Tour winner, has made just 14 of 24 cuts this year and doesn’t have a top-10 finish. His best finish was a T-18 at the Zurich Classic, but he’s finished in the top 30 in his past three starts.
Villegas said a change in attitude has helped turn things around. “We’re very fortunate to do what we do,” he said. “But you start getting hard on yourself. … You want the best, especially I’m a hard worker, I’m a very passionate guy. But I beat myself up a little bit too much sometimes.”
Villegas finished in the top 10 in four of his final five PGA Tour starts last season (including the unofficial CIMB Classic in Malaysia), and opened this PGA Tour season with a 63 at the Humana Challenge. Those results gave him high hopes for this year. “Things just never clicked after that,” he said. He failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, especially painful since he won two playoff events in 2008.
He may have found his game just in time, though.
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2. TWO GLOVES, TWO WINS?: Tommy Gainey, who also shot 7-under 65 Thursday, has a good history at Walt Disney World Resort. His second-place showing here in 2008 was his best PGA Tour finish until a couple weeks ago, when he earned his first PGA Tour victory at the McGladrey Classic. Gainey closed that event with a 10-under 60, meaning he’s 17 under in his past two PGA Tour rounds.
A win this week would give him two consecutive victories, but wouldn’t be enough for him to crack the top 30 on the money list. The top 30 at year’s end earn Masters invitations.
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3. ALL ABOUT THE MONEY: The money list will be the focus this week as players try to crack the top 125 and retain their cards for next season. Kevin Chappell started the week at No. 123 on the money list after finishing 66th last year as a rookie.
He almost won this event last year, leading in the final round before Luke Donald passed him with a 6-under 30 on the final nine. Chappell got off to a good start this week, shooting 67, the only player to break 70 among those ranked between Nos. 123-130 on the money list.
“I’m aware of my position and trying and go out there and win every week and haven’t done a very good job of that this year,” Chappell said. “Just one of those situations you’re in. If I can get in there and hit good shots and try and win a golf tournament and give myself some position over last year, I’ll be all right.”
Here’s how the bubble boys fared Thursday:
123. Kevin Chappell (67)
124. Rod Pampling (70)
125. Billy Mayfair (72)
126. Trevor Immelman* (80)
127. Gary Christian (71)
128. Alexandre Rocha (71)
129. Bill Lunde (76)
130. D.J. Trahan (74)
*-exempt for 2013
Pampling, No. 124 on the money list, and No. 125 Mayfair were paired together Thursday. Pampling is just $932 ahead of Mayfair on the money list. Trahan, who finished 125th on last year’s money list and is No. 130 this year, is $32,554 behind Mayfair.
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4. MAGNOLIA LANE: The Children’s Miracle Network Classic is played over two courses, the Magnolia and Palm. Players play each course once on Thursday and Friday, then play the final two rounds on the Magnolia, the more difficult of the two courses. The Magnolia, which measures 7,516 yards, is more than 500 yards longer than the Palm.
Charles Howell III matched Thursday’s low round at the Magnolia, shooting 68 with eagles on the par-5 fourth and 10th holes. Howell has had a successful Fall Series, finishing 11th at the Frys.com Open and seventh at the McGladrey Classic. Henrik Stenson, Charlie Beljan, Chez Reavie and Kevin Streelman also shot 68 at Magnolia on Thursday.
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5. GONE FISHING: Robert Garrigus is No. 26 on the PGA Tour money list, but is missing one thing: a victory. He’s finished in the top 25 in more than half of his starts (13 of 25) and has been runner-up three times to earn $2,792,930, the biggest yield of his career. He also was runner-up at the CIMB Classic, an unofficial PGA Tour event in Malaysia. He opened this week with a 4-under 68 at the Palm Course
“I didn’t hit many balls this week,” Garrigus said. “I just kind of showed up this morning and I started striking it. So it was a lot of fun today.”
Walt Disney World was the site of Garrigus’ only PGA Tour victory. He won here in 2010. The key to his success here?
“I think it’s the fishing,” he said. “It really just relaxes me. I don’t think about golf until I tee it up on Thursday, and I tell you what, I wish more places were like this, for sure.”