Originally Published: March 7, 2010

Let's spice it up, Camilo

Sobel By Jason Sobel
ESPN.com
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Contrary to popular belief among golfers, it was Mark Twain -- not John Feinstein -- who first referred to the game as "a good walk spoiled."

It's another Twain quote, however -- one ironically about himself, not golf -- that summarizes the current PGA Tour season quite nicely: "Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated."

With Tiger Woods on a self-imposed leave of absence and Phil Mickelson largely absent from leaderboards so far, it was believed the game itself would remain absent from any radar screens of the sporting landscape. Instead, we have been treated to a month's worth of tourneys featuring both entertainment and drama.

In chronological order, we have witnessed a 25-year-old power player earn his third career win over a former No. 1 at Pebble Beach; two of the world's top six players dueling at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship; a final-round battle in Phoenix that included two of the game's better 20-somethings; and a Honda Classic that gave us a trio of household names at the top, with Camilo Villegas defeating Vijay Singh and Anthony Kim.

The Weekly 18 begins with the idea that the latest champion might not be the game's most distinctive personality, but considering recent events, that isn't such a terrible thing.

1. It takes a Villegas

On the surface, Camilo Villegas is everything we should want in a next-gen superstar. He's young, talented, athletic and good-looking -- or so the ladies tell me. He has a cool nickname: Spiderman. He does that fancy lotus position thing when reading greens.

He's conscientious of his place in the game, too. With his native country of Colombia hosting a Nationwide Tour event for the first time this past week, Villegas flew down there to support the tournament and attend its pro-am, then returned to Florida to compete in the Honda Classic.

And most importantly, he wins. Can't be a next-level superstar without the hardware, and Camilo now owns three titles in his last 26 PGA Tour starts.

All of which is part of the blueprint, but hardly the entire story. I can't watch Villegas without getting the feeling that he is some sort of video game creation whose personality points were sacrificed in exchange for a better short game. Sure, he wears yellow pants and flashy belt buckles, but they seem to only be hiding an undercarriage that is pure vanilla.

This is a guy who wins an event and instantly goes NASCAR on us, thanking his many sponsors -- as if they helped get that little white ball into the hole any quicker.

When questioned about his recently shorn locks, he discloses, "She wouldn't stop cutting it, I guess."

When just off the course after shooting a 67, he reveals, "Yeah, it was tough out there."

When asked what it will take to extend a 54-hole lead into victory, he intimates, "Just got to keep doing what I'm doing."

Yawn.

Let's compare him with a few of his peers. Sergio Garcia, a buddy of Villegas, might act petulant and crude at times, but at least that's true to his character. Same goes for Anthony Kim, who was born brash and cocky and rarely veers from showcasing those traits.

Camilo, though? He's just ... boring.

The real head-scratching part of this is the fact that his personality is a complete antithesis to his golf game. Villegas will play anything from a chicken-wing swing to the driver stinger that he often employed at PGA National. And the guy is a veritable birdie machine, often dotting his card with plenty of red numbers while eschewing consistency.

Then again, considering all of the off-course controversies that have permeated the game in recent months, perhaps Villegas is the perfect superstar for current times after all. He plays very impressive golf and never utters a contentious word. In fact, he should be the role model for those who wish to reach such elevated status; he could serve as the beacon for the new PGA Tour motto: Look flashy, act flatly.

So yes, underneath those vibrant wardrobes and beyond the muscles on top of muscles, Camilo Villegas is just another boring golfer. But he also happens to be one who is extremely proficient at the game, too.

Welcome to the next generation.

Three up

2. Ai Miyazato

OK, so she failed to make it three in a row, finishing T-7 on Sunday at the Daikin Orchid Ladies on the JLPGA Tour. That should hardly be enough to wipe the smile off Miyazato's face, though, as two weeks into the LPGA season, she remains the only player to claim some hardware.

Last week, the Japanese star backed up her season-opening win at the LPGA Thailand with a triumph at the HSBC Women's Champions, tripling her career win total on the circuit within a span of eight days.

"This is obviously a great start for me," Miyazato said. "I try to stay in the present in what I do and that's really helping my game at the moment."

She became the first player to win the opening two LPGA tourneys since Marilynn Smith in 1966. The only others? Mickey Wright (1963), Louise Suggs (1952) and Babe Zaharias (1951). For those who aren't proficient in their ladies' golf history, that's like a young PGA Tour golfer sharing a mark with Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson.

After posting 11 total wins on the JLPGA in 2004 and '05, Miyazato came to the LPGA full-time in 2006, but wasn't an instant sensation. She battled swing problems and, as a result, incurred confidence issues, too. Not that she was performing poorly, really, but her final money list ranks of 22nd, 17th and 46th over her first three seasons served as unexpected disappointments.

Last year, she finally broke through for her first LPGA victory at the Evian Masters in late July and from there, something clicked. She finished T-3, T-4, T-2, T-10 and solo second in her next five starts and has used that momentum to carry into this season, as well.

Now 24, Miyazato has taken a more circuitous and deliberate journey up the Rolex Rankings than she would have liked, but at No. 3 in the world, she has firmly entrenched herself as one of the game's best players. Don't expect the wins to stop here, either.

3. Noh Seung-yul

First things first: The kid needs a nickname and I'll be disappointed if it's not Dr. Noh. Too easy? Maybe, but pretty damn cool, too.

On Sunday, the good doctor proved that Rory McIlroy is old news, Rickie Fowler is over the hill and Anthony Kim is just plain ancient. With a birdie on the final hole of the Malaysian Open, he became the youngest professional winner in European Tour history at the age of 18.

It didn't come without challenge from a strong contender and some final-hole drama. Right after Noh hooked his tee shot off the par-5 18th in the final round at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club and followed with a second shot to near the practice green, K.J. Choi applied the pressure by making birdie to tie things up. Noh then hit a deft chip to 18 inches and completed an unlikely up-and-down to win by a stroke.

"Coincidentally, when I was playing a practice round with K.J. earlier in the week, he asked me when my last win was," said Noh, who triumphed on the Asian Tour two years ago. "When I told him it was in 2008, he said, 'Isn't it about time you won?' For it to happen this week, I couldn't think of a better situation."

Unlike youngsters Pablo Martin, Danny Lee and Shane Lowry -- each of whom won on the circuit as an amateur in recent years -- Noh is already a play-for-pay guy, but that doesn't make his victory any less impressive. He was ranked a modest 266th in the world prior to this week and wasn't too well known internationally.

That all changes now, but he's hardly the first young player to make his mark this year.

Noh's win continues an eye-opening trend on the European Tour in 2010. Each of the first five titles were claimed by players 26 or younger. Since then, Andrew Dodt, 24, joined the youth movement, while Miguel Angel Jimenez, 46, and Robert Karlsson, 40, served as outliers.

Perhaps the biggest surprise? Through 10 events so far, Ian Poulter is the only player in his 30s to win -- and that happened in the U.S. at a co-sanctioned tournament.

One thing is for sure: When keeping an eye on the most talented young players in the world, Dr. Noh has now placed himself very much on the radar.

4. PGA Tour rookies

It's no secret that last year's rookie crop failed to excite and impress. No first-year tour member won a tournament and ROY winner Marc Leishman earned the award based on the strength of just three top-10 results.

By comparison, this year's freshman class is tearing it up. Rickie Fowler and Brian Stuard have already posted runner-up finishes, while Alex Prugh looks like a star in the making.

These guys aren't just passing the eyeball test, though; the numbers back up their success so far. Let's compare the 2010 rookies with those of 2009 in the charts to the left.

As you can see, this year's rookies are reaching the weekend at nearly the same percentage as their predecessors, but their rate of top results is more than double.

To what can we credit the better collective performance? There could be something to say about young players being more prepared for the pressure of final rounds or less nervy in such situations. Or they're simply better players. But really the differential can be traced to two names, as Prugh and Fowler have combined for five of the 10 early top-10s and four of the six top-fives.

Last year, only Jeff Klauk and Leishman had multiple top-five finishes among rookies, but Prugh and Fowler have matched them already this season.

With preseason ROY favorite and world top-10 player Rory McIlroy yet to really make his mark, this year's class could easily surpass that of a year ago. Then again, based on the mediocre results of those players, that wouldn't be too hefty of an accomplishment.

Three down

5. John Daly

What's the difference between John Daly and Ray Romano? Well, neither is exempt on the PGA Tour and each stars in his own Golf Channel show, but only one of 'em is funny.

Once again this past week, Daly proved just how seriously unfunny he could be. After a Florida Times-Union report revealed a 456-page file that detailed every one of his indiscretions and the resulting disciplinary action by the PGA Tour, the two-time major champion countered by posting the writer's personal phone number to his Twitter account, instructing his nearly 50,000 followers to "FLOOD" the line of the "JERK who writes NON-NEWS."

Two things JD should understand in the aftermath of this childish behavior: 1. Actually, the on- and off-course behavior of a professional golfer -- and the resulting punitive measures -- is very much news; and 2. Posting a writer's phone number to a public Twitter account is both classless and immature.

Daly was instructed by the PGA Tour to delete the posts -- yes, there were multiple posts -- but not until they had been public for some 12 hours. When asked about it later that day, well, he was less than forthcoming in this "SportsCenter" interview with Brian Kenny.

Since Daly enjoys posting numbers, though, allow me to post a few of his own.

Like 26. That's the number of cuts he's made in 72 starts over the past five seasons, meaning he's stuck around for the weekend just 36 percent of the time.

And 572,775. That's the amount, in dollars, that Daly has earned over the same period of time. Even if it all came in one season, it would still fall way below the number needed to maintain full-time playing privileges.

The point of this exercise isn't to stoop to his level, but simply to prove that Daly is irrelevant in the game right now -- and has been for much of the past half-decade. Sure, he can still make news with his mouth -- or in this case, his thumbs -- but until his game improves he should be treated like the kid in grade school who's pining for attention.

Make no mistake: The golf world is a better place when Daly is on leaderboards and giving his mammoth galleries something to cheer. Let's hope he gets back to that place soon, but let's also hope he grows up a little in the meantime.

6. Paula Creamer

After a first-round 3-under 69 at the season-opening Honda PTT LPGA Thailand a few weeks ago, Creamer was forced to withdraw with recurring pain in her left thumb. She returned to the U.S. and, well, if you listen to her, the short-term prognosis doesn't sound very bright.

In a series of recent tweets, she wrote, "Many of you have been wondering what the latest is with my thumb. I have been diagnosed as having a stretched ligament in my left thumb. This leads to [hyperextension] of my MCP joint. I've learned more in the last 2 weeks about orthopedic sports medicine than I ever thought I would. Anyway, I'm working with an occupational therapist now to determine if I can wear a support brace while playing. It's too early right now to say when I'll be able to return to play. Thanks everyone for your concern, support, and all the get well wishes you have sent."

While it may sound like a minor injury, an injured left thumb will affect everything from a player's grip to takeaway to impact. Don't be surprised if this hampers her game even upon returning at some point.

The sad part is, this isn't the first physical problem for Creamer recently. Last year, she battled stomach ailments throughout the season, limiting her appearances and success. (See the chart on the left for more.) For just the second time in her five-year LPGA career, she failed to capture a victory.

Creamer remains one of the world's most talented players, but until she's fully healthy again, she might struggle to retain her current status. When the Rolex Rankings were first released in 2006, she was No. 2 behind only Annika Sorenstam. Now? Creamer's eighth -- and an extended absence will almost assuredly see her drop out of the top 10 for the first time.

7. The "Bear Trap"

I'm getting a little verklempt after that victory by Villegas. Talk among yourselves. I'll give you a topic: The notorious "Bear Trap" at PGA National includes neither bears nor traps.

My apologies, but after four rounds at PGA National, if I hear this phrase one more time, I'm gonna wish a grizzly had chomped down on my inner ear canals.

Yes, it's got a cool name, especially since it plays off Jack Nicklaus' iconic nickname. And sure, it's got dramatic montage music, as displayed by NBC while showing video of wayward shots over the years.

It's just that the whole thing seems a little too ... contrived.

Whether it's the television personalities constantly bombarding us with this phrasing or the fact that it conjures images of a Myrtle Beach putt-putt course, I just have a tough time buying into the notion that the 15th, 16th and 17th holes of this course truly deserve a nickname of Amen Corner-like proportions.

Granted, they're difficult holes, as evidenced during Sunday's final round. Vijay Singh bogeyed every single one of 'em. J.B. Holmes made a double at 16 that took so long his beard grew two inches by the time he walked off the green. Nathan Green might still be playing his shot from the hazard on 17, the front of his pants looking as if he had an unfortunate accident before reaching the porta-john.

And yet, they're hardly impossible. Justin Rose, who finished solo third, made par on all three holes in the final round. Paul Casey, who was 1 shot further back, played them in 2-under.

Maybe I'd get a little more excited for the "Bear Trap" if it actually consisted of bears. And traps. (Other than bunkers, that is.) Until then, I'm just fine going another 51 weeks before being inundated with talk of the nickname once again.

Three wishes

8. I wish we could rethink the idea of which tournaments are important during Tiger Woods' absence.

It's no secret that for years the PGA Tour has ostensibly been divided into two separate circuits: Tiger tourneys and non-Tiger tourneys.

Due to Woods' predictable annual schedule, the PGA Tour calendar usually boasts a certain ebb and flow throughout the season, peaking during weeks in which he tees it up. Whether his return is imminent or this self-imposed exile remains intact all year, for the time being we should reexamine which tourneys really carry more weight than others.

Don't worry; I'm not calling for a complete upheaval. Without a doubt, the majors are still the four most, well, major events of the year -- Tiger or no Tiger. On the next tier are the WGC tournaments and the Players Championship, followed by the FedEx Cup playoffs.

No argument so far, right?

Well, then we start getting to those events which rise to the top of our consciousness because of Woods' usual presence. These include the Farmers Insurance Open, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Quail Hollow Championship, the Memorial Tournament and the AT&T National. Without the game's top-ranked player, though, these no longer own the same cachet.

Instead, others should see their rank among the rank-and-file increased to a new and improved level. For example, the Shell Houston Open -- being played one week prior to the Masters -- might now top this list, with such international top-10 players as Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy already committed, along with reigning major champs Angel Cabrera and Lucas Glover, plus a likely appearance from Phil Mickelson, who has made the tourney a regular on his schedule.

Of course, all of this simply leads to a larger statement about the PGA Tour in general without Woods in the mix. On any given Sunday, we can be treated to an entertaining battle between emerging young stars (Waste Management Phoenix Open) or subjected to an eventual winner who is a household name only in his own household -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

It would be difficult to argue that the game is more compelling without its most compelling figure, but one aftereffect of the Woods shockwave is that every tournament more or less has an equal chance of providing drama on the weekend. Unlike in the past, events are garnering interest because of what actually takes place rather than who is playing that week.

9. I wish more tournaments would try to replicate the 16th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

If you caught any part of my live coverage from the famed party hole at TPC Scottsdale, you might have read my idea that other events should attempt to recreate this atmosphere within the confines of their own courses.

It's pure logic, really. With attendance figures sagging at most regular-season PGA Tour venues, a singular hole that can house up to 20,000 spectators should serve as an eye-opener to events that need more eyeballs. While others have elected to make their tourneys more family-friendly or simply let the golf speak for itself, Phoenix is one of very few which preys on what so many consumers most enjoy while spending hours at a time outside in warm weather: Drinking beer and ogling members of the opposite sex.

It is a formula so simple that it's difficult to understand why other tournaments haven't followed suit. I'm not necessarily saying that every course should feature one hole with stadium seating and a few hundred skyboxes, but if we learned anything from "Field of Dreams" -- you know, that movie starring the guy from "Tin Cup" -- it's that, "If you build it, they will come."

A designated party hole -- preferably a par-3 on the back nine -- would allow for a certain brand of consumer to, well, consume while watching golf. Players contend they enjoy the atmosphere -- which features cheering for good shots and, yes, booing for poor ones -- at one event per year, but money talks; if these other events could draw bigger numbers by replicating this process, they should try it. And really, as long as a modicum of respectfulness is observed (no yelling during a player's backswing, no dumping beverages on the competitors, etc.), a little more energy and excitement wouldn't be the worst thing on a week-to-week basis.

Don't like it? No problem. Purists of the game, families and those who just don't enjoy the scene would have 17 other holes on which to enjoy the action, while those at the party hole wouldn't even be limited to golf fans.

While walking past one of the many beer gardens at the WMPO after the second round was complete, I overheard one tournament attendee say to another, "Dude, we didn't even see one golf shot today!" Those words should be music to Tim Finchem's ears. During an economic crisis and without the game's top-ranked player competing, people pay to get into TPC Scottsdale whether they want to watch the golf or not.

There is room for all kinds at PGA Tour events. Those who enjoy a party, though, should get treated to one at any given tournament site.

10. I wish more fans understood the importance of a strong start for those involved in the reshuffle.

It's difficult to recognize that which you didn't know existed, so here's a primer on how the PGA Tour's reshuffle works:

All players who are exempt via Q-school, Nationwide Tour and medical extensions are grouped together, originally ordered by their finish in those respective places. Every two months or so during the season, there is a reshuffle, during which these players are reordered based on their current placement on the money list. Why is this so important? Because the higher a player's number, the better chance he has of getting into the field at more events.

I bring this up now, because the year's first reshuffle took place after the West Coast Swing and before this past week's Honda Classic -- and it included plenty of turnover.

A few examples: Troy Merritt, who was medalist at Q-school, entered the season as No. 1 on this list; after a start that's included three made cuts in six starts, he is now 13th. Conversely, Rickie Fowler started the year in 33rd position; thanks to a pair of top-5 results, he's now in the pole position.

The entire list consists of 56 players and since there's very rarely a week in which that many spots are open into an event, the amount of times a guy tees it up becomes dependent on that number.

Of course, this is where it becomes a Catch-22. A player can't move up on this list unless he plays, but he can't play unless he's high enough on this list. What often winds up happening is that those who get off to a strong start wind up parlaying that into a successful season, while others are left playing catch-up all year.

It's hardly impossible for a player involved in the reshuffle to come back after a poor start, but it's not likely, either. And that's why those first two months of the season are so important for the guys with status from Q-school, Nationwide Tour and medical extensions.

11. Swing thoughts

• Tiger Woods is reportedly getting himself into "golf shape." Round and white with lots of dimples? That'll keep the women away, at least.

• Wasn't it obvious? Tiger's return to practice was clearly an attempt to steal the spotlight from rival and Honda Classic defending champion Y.E. Yang.

• Love this headline: "Sabbatini curious how fans will handle Tiger's return." Couldn't we substitute Sabo's name for, well, anyone else, too?

• European bookmaker Paddy Power reported that it was "in negotiations" to sponsor Woods. One day later, its offer was rejected. No, it was never going to happen, but smart move on Paddy's part. This is the epitome of free advertising.

• According to a recent ESPN poll, 29 percent of respondents believe Tiger's wife should forgive him. And 100 percent aren't married to him.

• Where have I been? Just found out there was an old pro wrestler named Tiger Jeet Singh. That sounds like the lovechild of ... ah, never mind.

• First @ianjamespoulter and @HunterMahan -- now @CamiloVillegasR makes it three straight on the PGA Tour. It's official: Great golf is buoyed by day-glo colors and Twitter.

• According to my English-to-Spanish dictionary, there is no translation for "stinger." Maybe Villegas should refer to it as "The Cami-LOW."

• Arnold Palmer's grandson, Sam Saunders, finished T-17 at the Honda. Arnie once told me the kid hits it so far, most of the time he can't even follow the ball.

• Vijay Singh continues to break down stereotypes. Five 3-jacks this past week? Huh, I always thought old dudes could putt.

• People Magazine crossword clue, 32 across: "Golf __ Ryan Palmer." The answer? "PRO." Duh. Now if I could just figure out who "Actor __ Penn" is ...

• An official from Augusta National told me that special Masters invitations can be offered anytime, but are usually done by now. That means there likely won't be any doled out this year.

• ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, while wearing Bob Knight's old-style hat during halftime of the North Carolina/Duke game on Saturday: "I'm ready for the back nine at Carnoustie." Makes sense, considering the Tar Heels resembled Jean Van de Velde circa 1999.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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